“Now you’re in Yew Nork,
These meets will strake you feel nand brew,
Lig bights will inspire you,
Hear it from Yew Nork, Yew Nork, Yew Nork!”
Anna and myself flew over to Bangkok, Thailand, last Tuesday night and returned late on Sunday night. Although it’s been two-and-a-half years since we were last there we’ve been to Bangkok many times before, but this time would have a slightly more sombre vibe as the entire country is still officially in mourning after the death of the beloved King Bhumibol the Great on October 13 this year, bringing to an end his 70 year reign. So, just how revered was this King? To put it in perspective, when I first started teaching in Singapore, I had a very intelligent but very difficult to handle Thai teenage girl in my class. She shaved her head, covered herself in piercings, used to smoke, drink and a ton of other things that can get you in whole heap of trouble in Singapore, regardless of whether you are an adult or not. I still see things that she posts on Facebook and she doesn’t seem to have changed a single bit in the 7-8 years it’s been since I last saw her in person, but she wrote one of the most eloquent, heartfelt messages you could possibly imagine on October 13, something you wouldn’t particularly expect from a rebellious, but well-traveled, girl.
But how would the King’s recent death affect us? Well, Anna and myself both have friends who live in Bangkok, one of mine, Tim Howard, is the cousin of my best mate, Owen, but for some reason or another, when we’re in Bangkok or he’s in Singapore, the other party is absent. On this occasion he and his wife had gone to Laos on Monday, so I would miss them again, but may catch them at Christmas in Australia. Anyway, when we put together all of the pieces of information we could gather from friends, we knew there was a period where you couldn’t wear bright-coloured clothing, alcohol wasn’t allowed to be sold, and many other aspects that you wouldn’t normally associate with Bangkok. When you check out Wikipedia, it gets even more intense:
The government declared a year-long mourning period for Bhumibol. Citizens were asked to refrain from participating in “joyful events” and entertainment for 30 days following his death; as a result, a number of events, including sports (such as the Thai League football season, which ended entirely), were cancelled or postponed. Entertainment outlets such as cinemas, nightclubs and theatres announced that they would shut down or operate under reduced hours during this period. The mourning period prompted concerns from Thailand’s tourism industry, who felt that the mood of the country, as well as the cancelled events, would reduce interest in visiting Thailand.
Upon the announcement of his death, all television channels suspended regular programming and simulcast special programmes from the Television Pool of Thailand, which consisted of monochrome videos and photos of Bhumibol, and coverage of royal events. International channels were also blacked out and replaced by this programming. Following the funeral procession on 14 October 2016, the channels continued to air the pooled tribute content until midnight local time, after which they were allowed to resume regular programming. However, for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period, all broadcasters will be forbidden from broadcasting programmes that feature “any element of entertainment, dancing, joy, violence, impoliteness or overly expressed emotion”, nor any non-official information, speculation or criticism related to the deceased King and his successor. Most Thai media outlets and websites switched to greyscale colour schemes as well.
To mark the mourning period even Thai shopping malls reduced their Christmas displays as a mark of respect, while planning to install memorial displays in the late King’s memory.
Since the death of the king, ultra-royalists in Thailand have criticized and harassed those who did not wear mourning black.
They also subjected to witch-hunts people whom they accused of disrespecting the deceased monarch. On 14 October 2016, angry ultra-royalist groups in Phuket Province thronged the residence of a man who posted on social media a number of comments which they thought offensive to the late king and violated the lèse-majesté law [making it illegal to defame, insult, or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent], despite the local police having declared that the comments were not in breach of the law. The groups dispersed after the police agreed to prosecute the man for the crime of lèse-majesté. Similar incidents happened on the following day in Phang Nga Province.
In November 2016, Nangrong School in Buriram Province seized colourful winter jackets from students and required them to wear those in mourning colours only. The students were reportedly distressed to lose their jackets due to the cold weather, and many did not own multiple warm articles of clothing.
On 28 November, the director of a public school in Ranong Province was removed from office for not wearing mourning black on her first day at work.
The National Council for Peace and Order, the junta ruling Thailand, also announced after the death of Bhumibol that it will hunt down lèse-majesté fugitives.
Definitely an interesting time for us to be visiting, but perhaps not so much for someone wanting to see the real Bangkok. Time would tell…
Wednesday, December 7
We checked into our room at the Centara Grand, a hotel adjoining the convention centre where Anna would be spending the bulk of her time, late on Tuesday night. There were a few delays in getting into town, so when we arrived to check in there were only two options left for our room:
- A non-smoking room with two single-beds, or
- A smoking room with a king-size bed.
I can’t physically fit into a single-bed so the smoking room on the thirtieth floor, the lowest floor for accommodation, it was to be, which raised a few small annoyances; The shower had a fabric curtain so when we showered the steam would would bring the smell out of the curtain, making it seem like you had just bathed in an ashtray. Also, when you laid your head down on the pillow you would get a big waft of cigarette aroma as a goodnight kiss. Fortunately it would dissipate as the days went on and there was a great view from the window (left).
Anna was already at the conference when I woke up on Wednesday morning so the first plan of attack for me was coffee and food. Normally I couldn’t care less about the hotel buffet, but this one was supposed to be pretty spectacular and I was kind of hungry. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed, this place had everything, really great quality and as much of it as you could possibly eat.
As is generally the case, it’s not really a buffet unless you’re laying out the front with your belt undone afterwards. I came close, but Anna had her conference the entire afternoon so I knew I would have more than enough time to walk this one off. Time to hit the road.
Generally when we go to Bangkok we stay in an apartment that Anna’s auntie owns in the On Nut area, but this time a drug company was putting us up and it was a pretty classy location. Sure, there were still a few dirt-malls and roadside stalls, but the bulk of it was relatively clean and new. Regardless, there were still some good things to be seen:
If you noticed the little picture of the ‘Snail Serum’ sign, that was no small banner and Bangkok has bought into the cosmetological properties of slug slime big time. Interested in giving it a go? Well, here’s a little more information:
Snail slime is currently used in human cosmetics, by companies such as Biocutis, Misshaus, Alternative Secrets and Réelle Skincare. Snail slime was traditionally used medicinally from Ancient Greece to the Middle Ages internally against gastrointestinal ulcers, and in the form of syrup, to soothe a cough.
Snail slime has also been used by the Bamiléké people of Cameroon to treat burns.
Snail slime is commercially obtained from the common garden snail species Helix aspersa, which produces a secretion rich in proteins of high and low molecular weight hyaluronic acid and antioxidants. The secretion of the snail supposedly has a double function when applied to human skin: on one hand it is claimed to stimulate the formation of collagen, elastin and dermal components that repair the signs of photoaging and, second, is claimed to minimize the damage generated by free radicals that are responsible for premature skin aging.
Snail slime varies in appearance and quality according to the environmental conditions, season, and food sources used by the snails. These factors supposedly determine the quality of the slime and therefore the properties of a product made with it.
Notice the constant use of the word “supposedly,” but if you Google it you will notice that a lot of people swear by this stuff. However, it all reminds me of an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit from 2004 when they put snails on people’s faces in a shopping mall as joke in order to see how far people were willing to take the whole “new-age natural-remedy” thing. Here is that same footage 12 years later, in a mashup with Tokyo’s Clinical Salon promo (and yes, I realise the doctor in the Penn & Teller footage is just the Dean from Old School):
Now that is a joke that got out of hand! Anyway, Anna had a dinner where she had to do a presentation and then a question and answer session at the Anatara Siam Hotel that was supposed to finish at around 8:00pm, but had barely even got underway by that time, so I went down and joined them for dinner (not that I was even hungry after lunch). I also managed to get a few photos of Anna doing her thing; something she rarely let’s me do, but a thing that makes me feel pretty proud:
Before long it was time to start heading back to our hotel, where we threw on something a tad more comfortable to wear up at our 55th-floor rooftop bar for a beer or eight with this as our view for the night:
Thursday, December 8
Thursday was a reasonably quiet day. Anna had her conference in the morning, so I just stayed in our room and watched an NCAA basketball game, as I had the day before and would again the following day. When Anna returned we went out, grabbed a coffee, some lunch and then commenced…
CSI: YEW NORK
If you paid any attention to the feature image of this post or even the pictures from me just walking around on Wednesday, you would’ve noticed an incredibly bad, misspelt “YEW NORK” shirt and the more I thought about it, the cooler the shirt seemed. I had asked if they had a larger size at the time, but the woman didn’t speak English so I just let it go. Now I really wanted that shirt and for the whole afternoon, while Anna was doing some shopping we were both constantly on guard, playing lead roles in Counterfeit Shirt Isolation: Yew Nork. We just spent the whole day looking around and backtracking, but we saw some unique sights once again:
It wasn’t long before Anna would need to come back for another talk and then we would be going out to dinner with some of her Singaporean colleagues, but never fear — CSI: YN would resume the next day.
Friday, December 9
Yes, CSI:YN would indeed soon continue, but the first order of business was lunch. Anna and myself stumbled upon a really low-key looking noodle store full of old locals, always a good sign when you’re traveling in Asia, so our plan was to check that out. The noodles were 60¢ a bowl and admittedly the bowls were quite small, but they were damn good.
You had your choice of noodle types and could have them prepared four ways; soup, dry, tom yum soup, or tom yum dry. Even better, if you could beat the current reigning champion by eating 40 bowls in 60 minutes your meal was free. I could have possibly come close in quantity, but not in an hour, that equals a bowl every 80 seconds and I like to actually taste food. Instead, Anna got a bowl or two and a weird purple drink, I had six or seven bowls and then we were off to explore the area and try to track down that elusive Yew Nork shirt before Anna had to go to a dinner.
We now had the required sustenance to unearth the shirt, but it was really becoming like an episode of CSI, just without all the crime and stuff. In a mission that had us deducing information from the timestamps on pictures, to backtracking and retracing steps, to asking random strangers, we searched and searched again in every single place I had been the day I originally found the shirt, but ultimately came up fruitless. Still, Anna had no reason to complain — She got to do even more shopping that afternoon as a result and besides, when we were in Greece several years ago, she had me walking around Athens, one of the scariest cities I have ever been to, for four hours in a futile effort to find the exact hot chocolate she wanted. Karma’s a bitch that rides a horse of pain. Still, we saw some cool stuff again, including a vintage Michael Bolton t-shirt that just didn’t fit.
Before too long Anna had to go to her dinner so I went and grabbed mine and then pulled up a seat in HOBs, mainly due to it being the only half-decent bar that I had stumbled upon over the past couple of days in our part of town. Anna met me after her dinner and eventually we decided to try and find a shisha place. We caught a cab out to the area we normally head to, but it turns out it’s really hard to find in Bangkok now due mainly to taxation reasons, so we just caught another cab directly back to where we had come from.
Saturday, December 10
Saturday was to be our last full day in Bangkok so we made it a day where we would catch up with an old friend of ours, Sredej Bunnag and his girlfriend, Noelle, who both live in Bangkok. The day started simply enough with the four of us going to get some boat noodles:
Boat noodles or kuaitiao ruea (Thai: ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ) is a Thai style noodle dish, which has a strong flavor. It contains both pork and beef, as well as dark soy sauce, pickled bean curd and some other spices, and is normally served with meatballs and pig’s liver. The soup also contains nam tok (Thai: น้ำตก), which is cow or pigs blood mixed with salt, to season the soup. The color of the soup is similar to beef noodles soup.
Lunch was incredible, spent catching up on old times and other possible CSI: YN techniques to track down my t-shirt. The day rapidly deteriorated into day drinking at a micro-brewery with Anna and Noelle later getting a massage while Sredej and myself continued with the beers, stopping only to walk down and get tacos. Good times.
Sunday, December 11
Anna hasn’t had much of a chance to relax in the past couple of months so it was no surprise that she was up reasonably early. I was still sleepy so Anna went to get yet another massage while I kept my ass firmly planted in bed.
Eventually I awoke, but there was no basketball on TV, only UFC 206. I used to love UFC years ago, but like most sports, MMA has evolved and everyone is a jack-of-all-trades, thus my interest has somewhat waned. It’s one of those sports that I’ll watch if it’s on, but I don’t actively follow it anymore, however, that may be all about to change thanks to Doo Ho Choi (right).
Prior to Sunday I had heard a little about Choi — I knew he had a nine-fight winning streak leading up to signing with UFC and had since gone 3-0, all of his fights lasting a combined total of about four minutes, all first-round knockouts. I’ve lived in Korea and I quickly learnt that looks can be deceiving, however, as much of a badass as Choi sounded, it still seemed a little surreal. He looks more like a Body Shop model than a guy who could easily kill you with his bare hands.
To put it all in perspective, here is picture of Choi and his opponent on the night, Cub Swanson:
UFC commentator Joe Rogan must have known exactly what was going through most viewers’ minds, because as Choi was making his way to the cage, Rogan stated, “He may look like an adorable teenage boy, but he’ll give you a concussion.” This could be some fun…
The fight started and instantly I was enthralled! At one point in the second round I realised I was sitting bolt-upright in bed with my mouth open. I initially posted a video of the whole fight, but it got removed for copyright reasons so here are the highlights (there are other versions of the full fight on YouTube, but they’ll probably meet the same fate, too):
Spoiler Alert: This was a nail-biter until Swanson wrapped it up in the last 20 seconds, but damn Choi can take a hit! Swanson later said that he doesn’t hit a heavy bag that hard when he’s training! One of the only things better than that match was Choi’s post-fight interview for two reasons:
- He had only prepared a victory speech and, after Swanson went on about being “called out” and the little Korean “questioning his abilities,” Choi went on to say through an interpreter that he had always wanted to fight one of his heroes, making Swanson look like a complete dick, and…
- The fact that his head was a totally different shape after the match!:
It was voted fight of the night but most of the commentators and analysts were saying that it will most likely be voted fight of the year, as well. I think I may start paying a little more attention again after that.
Anyhow, we only had a couple of hours left, so we put in an unsuccessful last-ditch effort to find my Yew Nork t-shirt, but soon enough we had to be making our way through the crazy Bangkok traffic to the airport.
We had a great weekend, I’m glad Anna’s presentations at the eye conference went so well and it was nice to meet everyone. It was also a blast catching up with Sredej and meeting Noelle, I’m sure we’ll be back again soon. Meanwhile, Anna has to fly to Cambodia to do free eye-screenings this weekend and then the following weekend we’re heading back to Australia for Christmas.
In the meantime I’ll leave you with a picture of a huge crayfish we saw in a market near our place: