Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bangkok 2010

After working in SERI for a year, I am now moving on. Looking ahead to my new job, which I think will be both exciting and challenging, I thought I really need do a little seeing of the world, before I engage into the right gear for work. Traveling has also been a luxury in my family’s dictionary, hence I travelled much less than I wish I had. It is only made possible now that I earn my own salary. Initially, I was thinking of Cambodia, but was too timid to travel alone in that country. My immediate second choice was Bangkok. I don’t know much about Bangkok and Thailand, the choice was indeed impulsive and instinctive. It’s just that the name rings a bell on me, seemingly mysterious and lively at the same time. Mum was nagging me a big deal as she worried of my safety due to the recent political instability in Thailand, but I was silently hoping for see some sort of protest taking place during the trip - perhaps it was the recent political hype to cause the curious me to start to show interest in the people, to get to know what life mean to them.

Sera, a friend from Korea, needed to get out of Malaysia to get her immigration record renewed, so it fits well that we could go on a trip together. We soon roped in Erica, and Sera’s mum while the other colleagues looks in admiration. They later proved to be good companions and had added a lot of joy throughout the trip.

The moving Smarties
As we arrived, the first thing that caught our eyes was the colourful vehicles bustling on the road of Bangkok. As Erica puts it cheekily; they are like moving Smarties (those choco beans people similar my age grew up eating)!

Well thanks a lot to her, the imagery has now stuck in my head. Traffic was heavy, albeit messy with the Tuk-tuks and motorcycles criss-crossing between other bigger vehicles. This, with the eye-catching choice of colours of the taxis, gave Bangkok otherwise boring landscape some form of life. Yet, mess doesn’t equate chaos. In the irregularity of Bangkok, there seems to be an unspoken order.

The monarch and his people
We started our journey with a visit to the National Museum. The museum displays a chronological history, from the early kingdom of Sukhothai and Attuthaya, the gain and loss of land to and from Burma, Laos and Cambodia, to the unification of Siam up to the current Ninth reign. Given my nature of work and the political philosophy I am accustomed to, I can’t help but ask: what about democracy? Indeed the museum doesn’t talk much about it, except that constitution was written in 1932 that gives birth to an elected government. I do not recall the museum talking about the 1997 reformist constitution, and certainly not the military coup took over in 2006, supposedly with the backing of the monarch and ousted out the former Prime Minister Thaksin who was allegedly corrupted. The following political developments are much complicated, depending on which side you hear from, and only time will tell how the current political instability of Thailand will unfolds.

Even so, one should notice that the status of the King has remained relatively unchallenged amid the political instability. I was always amazed by the Thai people’s love for their king. Last year when I visited Khuan Niang, a small town in South Thailand, I was rendered speechless to see that every house proudly raises their national flags and hang the pictures of the royal families. How many Malaysians will do the same?

In Bangkok, the King’s presence is constantly felt, with His Majesty’s portrait displayed at the obvious corner of every street. Monuments are common in the city, almost fell like one for each of the previous kings of Siam (except for two: the democracy monument which celebrates the transformation from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy in 1932 and the Victory monument which celebrate Thai victory against French in Laos in 1939).

While it is perhaps over simplistic to think how the money used for the royal propaganda can be better spent so that more can benefit from it, it is nevertheless a justified thought. The practice of this sort is in principle nothing new, but seemingly a tradition that the royal lineage inherited. The Grand Palace of the King of Siam was indeed a century masterpiece of architecture, magnificent almost beyond the comprehension of a working-class Malaysian daughter like me. As the King of Siam was (and still is) the provider and protector of Buddhism, Wats are almost always built upon and only upon the King instruction. Temple of Emerald Buddha, Golden Mount, Wat Arun – they are, I can only say, breathtaking.

The God of Thai
Having spent most of my childhood years in Buddhist Dharma Schools, I took the liberty to claim some expertise in it. Buddhism, as I know of, teaches simple living and self-enlightenment. Lord Buddha, an Indian Prince born with great status, leaves the riches of the world, to pursue answers to life fulfillment. He, in his own words, is a teacher, not a supernatural power that is able to dictate nor protect. Yet, the God-like treatment he got from the Thai believers, are seemingly contrary to his teaching. What would Buddha thinks, if he sees
the glorification he received as such?

There is less doubt that Thai people are a religious nation. Thailand has also been the heartland for Buddhism. The Wats are always full of devotees. The Erwan shrine even stood tall right in front of a shopping mall in the city center, with many shoppers worshipping in between their shopping schedule. I see a close proximity between religiosity and modernity.
As we walk past the King Chulalongkorn’s stature, we similarly found a crowd worshipping the statue. It could be that it was the King’s memorial day, but the point is that kings had indeed taken a place of deity in the mind of the Thais.

While we are attracted to the bright colours choice on the streets, we also notice that pink appears the most. Pink houses, pink taxis, Bank with pink as theme colour (!), pink bicycles (rode by a male!)… We just couldn’t figure out why Thais like pink so much.
Interestingly, I later read that on the 7 Nov 2007, when the king emerged from hospital after nearly four weeks of illness, he was wearing a propitious pink shirt and jacket. Because of that, loyal supporters rushed to change the special yellow royal shirts they had been wearing for over a year to pink ones. Astrologers suggested that the planet Mars, which is associated to Tuesday and the color pink, would help restore the King to full health. Could that be the reason why we see pink everywhere? If that is true, such is their love for their king, and such is their faith in the supernaturals!

The city of smiles
Apart from a few ‘bad apples’ among the tuk-tuk drivers who tried to offer crooked tour package, I find Thais generally very friendly people – so friendly that before you approached for help, they might just offer themselves when they see your confused faces. On one occasion, a total stranger lingered on for more than five minutes just to help to get us a tuk-tuk that offers a cheap rate. This sort of courtesy is rare to get in Malaysia; I did receive the first few ones with much skepticism and bit of hostility.

Speaking of tuk-tuk rates, one really needs to acquire good bargaining skill to be in Bangkok. Unlike most developed country where all prices are well regulated, almost everything can be negotiated, at least in the older Bangkok. Customer rights are perhaps less protected, but perhaps that is the way of life for the Thai. Whether it is tuk-tuks or market goods, you can easily find sellers that will halve the price from the original he offered. Along the way, I wondered if we bargained for value, or just for the thrill of it, because even the original prices are actually rather reasonable. But oh well, who can resist a 50% discount like those in the mega sales? :P

Sufficient, efficient
Earning the maximum doesn’t seem to be the agenda of most Thai small businesses. I do not stay long enough to learn the Thai mentality, but perhaps for them earning enough is enough, or perhaps actually earning is better than not earning at all. Either way, somehow Thailand always reminds me of one word: Sufficient. The feeling is especially strong when I travelled the rural areas, when I see the paddy fields, the orchards and the farms. The common Thais are certainly not rich, but they don’t seem to be living in poverty either. Interestingly, I later found out that the the principles of ‘Sufficiency economy’ was indeed promoted by one of the King named Bhumibol, who emphasized ‘gross national happiness’ rather than gross national product. If I can be allowed to stretch the thought further, I think the ‘just-nice’ concept is also reflected in their transport system – they don’t provide extra comfort nor fancy speed, but they get you to where you need to be – sufficiently efficient.

That were what I gathered from my four days Bangkok trip. It was a short trip, I apologize for any misinterpretation. At a personal level, I meant it to be reflective, but it turns out to be more like a discovery. Nonetheless, it works well; in fact it works better that way. My perceptions enriched, my mind reenergized – I’m ready for the new job! 


oakleyses said...

air max, oakley sunglasses, nike air max, uggs on sale, michael kors pas cher, louis vuitton outlet, longchamp pas cher, longchamp outlet, polo ralph lauren, oakley sunglasses, polo outlet, jordan pas cher, replica watches, christian louboutin, oakley sunglasses, cheap oakley sunglasses, nike air max, tiffany jewelry, ugg boots, longchamp outlet, christian louboutin outlet, chanel handbags, prada outlet, jordan shoes, ray ban sunglasses, nike outlet, prada handbags, louis vuitton outlet, gucci handbags, nike free, nike free run, louis vuitton outlet, replica watches, ray ban sunglasses, sac longchamp pas cher, ray ban sunglasses, kate spade outlet, oakley sunglasses wholesale, louboutin pas cher, christian louboutin uk, polo ralph lauren outlet online, ugg boots, tory burch outlet, nike roshe, louis vuitton, louis vuitton, tiffany and co, christian louboutin shoes, longchamp outlet

oakleyses said...

abercrombie and fitch uk, polo lacoste, true religion jeans, true religion outlet, michael kors outlet, guess pas cher, michael kors outlet, sac hermes, michael kors outlet, burberry outlet, north face uk, coach purses, hogan outlet, ray ban pas cher, michael kors outlet online, nike blazer pas cher, oakley pas cher, michael kors, ralph lauren uk, nike air max uk, nike free uk, nike air force, ray ban uk, nike air max uk, nike roshe run uk, converse pas cher, vans pas cher, michael kors outlet online, michael kors outlet online, nike air max, kate spade, michael kors, replica handbags, true religion outlet, sac vanessa bruno, coach outlet, burberry handbags, hollister uk, hollister pas cher, timberland pas cher, uggs outlet, nike tn, uggs outlet, new balance, north face, mulberry uk, true religion outlet, lululemon canada, michael kors outlet online

oakleyses said...

oakley, gucci, converse outlet, abercrombie and fitch, instyler, ray ban, soccer jerseys, lululemon, iphone cases, nike trainers uk, hollister, louboutin, valentino shoes, vans, reebok outlet, insanity workout, soccer shoes, nike roshe run, baseball bats, ghd hair, north face outlet, vans outlet, giuseppe zanotti outlet, p90x workout, lancel, nike air max, herve leger, mcm handbags, timberland boots, asics running shoes, wedding dresses, hollister clothing, bottega veneta, longchamp uk, nfl jerseys, babyliss, hollister, new balance shoes, chi flat iron, jimmy choo outlet, ralph lauren, north face outlet, hermes belt, beats by dre, mont blanc pens, celine handbags, nike air max, mac cosmetics, ferragamo shoes, nike huaraches

oakleyses said...

ugg uk, replica watches, moncler, moncler uk, karen millen uk, moncler, pandora jewelry, hollister, canada goose, juicy couture outlet, moncler outlet, juicy couture outlet, louis vuitton, moncler, montre pas cher, links of london, canada goose, toms shoes, supra shoes, louis vuitton, thomas sabo, canada goose uk, doudoune moncler, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, ugg, canada goose jackets, swarovski crystal, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, louis vuitton, pandora uk, moncler outlet, canada goose outlet, louis vuitton, marc jacobs, wedding dresses, moncler, canada goose outlet, swarovski, ugg pas cher, canada goose, pandora jewelry, coach outlet, canada goose outlet, louis vuitton, pandora charms