Archive for the ‘Quirky Thailand’ Category

Siamese Sextuplets

Thailand has long been associated with twins since the original Siamese twins were born in the early 19th century. I guess chosing names for them wasn’t too difficult. Their parents plumped for Chang and Eng. One couple, however, faced a bit more of a challenge. The woman gave birth to sextuplets – the first such multiple birth in Thailand. In the end they decided to name them after their favourite car brands, so now the world welcomes Audi, Fortune (after Fortuner – a large, ugly brand of pickup truck), Porsche, Mini, Volks (minus the “wagon” part) and Fiat. The children are now two months old, doing well, and all but one of them is out of hospital.

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Thai Kitsch

Many Thais – even hi-so ones – have a love of the kitsch. The insides of homes of the wealthy, as represented in Thai soap operas, usually look like a bizarre cross between a Louix XIV interior and a Chinese palace. I guess my moobaan is for the relatively affluent, and they display their kitsch tendencies on the gateposts.

Chickens are a popular theme, perhaps reminding people of their agrarian backgrounds:


The rooster, however, reminds us of King Naresuan the Great, who in the 16th century, as a boy, was held hostage by the Burmese to ensure that the Siamese did not rise up against them. He was famous for his love of cock fighting. He eventually escaped and led a successful uprising against the Burmese invaders.

Other animals such as elephants, cows and giraffes also make an appearance.

These cats appear to have arrived from Japan.

Human figures include monks:

and goodness knows what!

It appears that here they’ve fled, just leaving the glitter ball and a big pile of poo:

The biggest surprise, however, was this one:

It even moved and squawked. So life-like!

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The Planking Monk

Planking (for those of you who’ve been living on a different planet for the past few weeks) is an Australian craze for lying flat in an usual position, then posting a photograph of yourself on the Internet. Planking has now spread globally, including to Thailand. However, one planker is now in hot water for doing so.

This monk is planking inside his kuti.

Planking Monk

The picture was posted on Twitter and has been widely criticised. The Network of Organisations for the Protection of the Nation, Religion and Monarchy has condemned the photograph, saying that it hurt Buddhism, and Phra Phrommolee (a senior monk of the Sangha Supreme Council) has urged senior monks to stop any other monk or novice from planking in the future.

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The H-Word

Crispin & Crispianus pub signAs a teenager the bus to school would stop at traffic lights outside a pub called the Crispin & Crispianus. I remember thinking it a strange name, and wondering what it would be like to be called Crispy Anus? In fact, I’m not sure I’d particularly like to be called any moniker containing an “anus”. A group of Thai people have a slightly different problem with their “anus” name. But to begin at the beginning …

There is one word in Thailand that is so offensive that it’s rarely uttered. To call someone this is likely to provoke a brawl. That word is hia (เหี้ย). Here’s a hia:

Varanus salvator

It’s Varanus salvator, a Water Monitor. This magnificent lizard can grow up to 3½ metres in length and weigh up to 25 kg (though most adults are about half this). It has a sturdy, muscular body, strong claws and a hefty tail. Its body is gorgeously striped laterally giving it its more polite name in Thai, tua ngern tua thorng (ตัวเงินตัวทอง) which means silver-body gold-body. Unfortunately, its propensity for eating farmers’ chickens and eggs has given it a bad reputation. (It’s also occasionally referred to as tua gin gai (ตัวกินไก่) – chicken eater. It also poses another serious threat …

A few weeks ago such a lizard fell out of a tree in Lumpini Park – one of the few green areas in central Bangkok. Unfortunately, it landed on a woman who was slightly injured and needed a few stitches. In response the park officials rounded up all the lizards they could find (about 50 in all), put them in sacks and took them away. I somehow doubt they released them into a more suitable habitat – unless their natural habitat is swimming with the fishes. Of course, this was nothing to do with the perils of falling lizards in the park – though having a lizard fall on you is considered rather unlucky in these parts

Last year a senior official suggested that these beasts be rehabilitated by changing their name to Woranoot – a charming female name, and very close to the Thai pronunciation of Varanus. (Thai people pronounce “s” at the end of syllables as “t”.) And therein lies the rub: the lovely Voranoots of this world rather objected to being linked to hias. The proposal was quietly dropped.

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The hia has been brought into political service in the run-up to the election by “The People’s Alliance for Democracy” (better known as the “yellow shirts” – the people who closed the airport and ruined the holidays of tens of thousands of tourists.) Don’t be fooled by the name – they’re not really in favour of democracy. In fact, they’re running a “vote no” campaign for the upcoming election. They put up this billboard in the centre of Bangkok.

PAD Animal Billboard

The strapline translates as “Don’t Let Animals Enter Parliament”. Notice our friend the hia there, along with the buffalo (a symbol of stupidity). Khwaay (ควาย) is a term commonly used by those euphemistically known as “bar girls” to refer to their western clients.

The tiger is considered particularly cruel. Thais say หน้าเนื้อใจเสือ, literally “nice face, heart of a tiger”.

There’s another quaint Thai idiom ผ่าตัด หมาออกจากปา which literally translates as “perform surgery to remove the dog from one’s mouth” and means to stop saying really stupid things, so the dog’s symbolic, too.

Finally, there’s the monkey. Not too sure what its exact significance is, but naughty children are refered to as ling (ลิง) as monkeys have a reputation for being mischevious.

The billboard has now been banned by the police as inappropriate.

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Crispin and Crisipanus were two 3rd century English saints, both shoemakers, now the patron saints of bookmakers.

The pub is a grade II listed building, and was built in the early 17th century. Apparently Dickens was a regular here.

Crispin & Crispianus Pub

Earlier this year fire broke out, and the pub is now gutted and boarded up.

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Raunchy Soap

I rarely watch Thai-language TV – the content is usually pretty uninspiring and, to be honest, it’s still a strain for me to listen to Thai for more than a few minutes. However, one soap opera beckoned me to the screen yesterday evening – Dork Som Sii Thorng (ดอกส้มสีทอง – literally Gold-coloured Orange Blossom). This raunchy soap might not have come to my attention had the Culture Minister, Nipit Intarasombat, called for the censorship committee of Channel 3 to be dismissed. He bewailed that some of the characters in the series “acted extremely aggressively” with “overly strong emotion” – but that’s pretty standard for Thai soap operas. (Also standard is extremely wooden acting, cookie-cutter plots, rampant product placement and long, lingering shots of an actor’s face at key moments as they slowly contort their features through a range of emotions.)

Dork Som Sii Thorng

Of course, the real problem is that this soap is an accurate depiction of high society life. There’s rampant adultery by both men and women (the female lead has particularly voracious needs), drug taking, black magic rites and lots of screaming rows. Consumption is particularly conspicuous, with large houses and flashy cars. Shocking! There are elements in Thai society that take a nanny-knows-best view of the world and try to control what the ordinary Thai people read and watch.

(It’s of note that a prominent US human rights organisation has recently downgraded Thailand’s rating for press freedom from “partly free” to “not free” – one of the contributing factors being Thailand’s ramping up of its already rampant Internet censorship as well as overt political control of TV.)

Anyway, Channel 3 has responded by changing the programme’s rating from “13” to “18” (and there’s a nice big DOG on the screen to remind you of this throughout the program) and added a scrolling message every couple of minutes reminding viewers that soap operas aren’t reality, this isn’t Big Brother, and that under-18s should not be exposed to such corrupting filth. (At least, that was the gist of the message. I paraphrased.)

No doubt Channel 3 is enormously grateful for the Minister’s concerns, and is equally grateful for the terrific ensuing boost in viewing figures.

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Vive L’Amour

It’s probably fair to say that I’m not the most romantically inclined person on the planet. After I’ve done the dozen red roses thing, the diamond ring the size of a pigeon egg, and the magnum of champagne well, I’m pretty much out of ideas.

Thankfully, Villa Market, which I visited earlier today (a Thai supermarket aimed at the wealthy, and at the stinking rich expatriate) has come to the rescue. On Valentine’s Day this year I’ll not be scrabbling for inspiration thanks to their kind handout.

Villa, Valentine's Day promotion, 2011

Idea #1: Spam With Bacon

Spam with Bacon

Idea #2: Jones Pork Little Sausage. (Not so keen on the little sausage – might be misunderstood.)

Little Sausage

Idea #3: Kleenex Tissue. (Might be necessary, even with a little sausage.)

Kleenex

Idea #4: If there’s no Kleenex to hand, there’s always toilet roll:

Toilet Roll

Idea #5: And if things don’t go quite to plan and there’s a little accident, one might end up needing these:

Nappies/Diapers

Idea #6:

I’m not quite sure where the olive oil, granola bars, prego sauce and frozen pot pies fit in with the romantic scenario, but as I said, I’m not the most romantically inclined person on the planet. However, I suspect the “Super Hard, Wet Hard, Madom G Long Keep Gel” might have its uses.

Suggestive hair products

(And the Gatsby “Hard, Supper Hard” does reflect my problems with deciding what to eat this evening.)

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Panda-fish

Thai people love pandas. Ever since Lin Ping was born in Chiang Mai Zoo just over a year ago they’ve become a national obsession. There’s a TV channel that broadcasts live from Lin Ping’s cage 24/7. Elephants have been painted like pandas. And their image is everywhere from advertising posters to T-shirts to tableware.

Panda elephants in Ayutthaya

A couple of weeks ago a friend’s mother was shopping at a local market and spotted some unusual looking fish – they looked like pandas, with white body, black around the eyes, and further black splodges on the body. Enchanted she bought one to add to her fish tank.

Her family was a little skeptical: there’s no such thing as a panda-fish. How right they were. A few days later the paint started to come off to reveal … a bog-standard goldfish!

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Love Story

“Where do I begin
To tell the story of how great a love can be?”

Yes, it’s another memorable Thai TV advertisement.

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I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

As I’ve written before, ghosts in Thailand are greatly feared yet ghost stories are a major film genre here. However, as this Thai advert reveals, they’re really not scary at all:

About the Ghosts

Phii Kraseu (ผีกระสือ)
This ghost is in the form of a beautiful woman, albeit one with no lower body and trailing intestines and a brightly beating heart (which you can see just before the lights are turned out at the end of the commercial). Lacking legs she gets about by floating. She lives inside a witch and leaves her host’s body during the night through the mouth. She’s not generally harmful to human, except when she eats their entrails. She’s also rather partial to sucking out and eating the placentas and foetuses of pregnant women just before birth. Generally, though she just eats poo. Consequently going to an outside lavatory in the night can be a terrifying experience. Thank goodness for the invention of the chamber pot. Before the host witch can die she must find someone to eat some of her saliva, so snogging such a witch is not the best of ideas.

Phii Krahang (ผีกระหัง)
This ghost is a man with feathers and a bird-like tail. He flies by means of rice threshing baskets and eats poo and sits on a pestle used for pounding rice. At night he glows.

Banana Ghost, Phii Kluay (ผีกล้วย)
This kind of ghost is female and lives in a banana tree. When it’s dark they come out and try to seduce men. Once seduced the man is trapped in the spirit world and can never return to the real world.

Jackfruit Ghost, Phii khanun (ผีกขนุน)
This isn’t actually a ghost, but rather a slang term for a lady of the night. The English subtitles in the clip are actually wrong – the father says it’s a person, not a transvestite. In days gone by prostitutes used to loiter alongside roads and in parks, often under jackfruit trees. When children asked about these strange ladies the parents, unwilling to explain the real situation, said they were jackfruit ghosts.

Blue Ghost, Phii Puming (ผีปุ่มิ่ง)
Usually this ghost is a beautiful female who is partial to human flesh. However, it also comes in male form. When Suvarnabhumi Airport was built they made a couple of mistakes: (1) they built it on a swamp (the area was originally known as “Cobra Swamp”), and (2) they built it over a graveyard. The former meant that the place started cracking up even before the first passengers had flown. The latter meant the place was infested with ghosts, including this one. A large group of monks performed a ceremony to clear the place of ghosts. The other problem is rather more intractable.

Phii Preet (ผีเปรต)
This ghost is as tall as a palm tree and is very thin on account of having only a tiny mouth. Gluttons tend to be reborn as this ghost. At night it roams the countryside making a plaintive whistling sound begging people to make merit for it so it can be released from the karmic consequences of its greed in a former life. This ghost is one of the pretty harmless ones.

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Through A Glass, Darkie

It’s probably fair to say that Thailand isn’t famed for its political correctness. One well-known brand of toothpaste (actually from Taiwan) used to be known as “Darkie”, and the packaging featured a stereotypical minstrel (allegedly inspired by Al Jolson).

Darkie Toothpaste

Procter & Gamble took over the company, and the preparation is now know as “Darlie”, though still has the minstrel as its logo.

The following advertisement, for another toothpaste (which happens to be black) is both touching in its portrayal of a black man in Thailand, and quite shocking for the implicit racism.

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