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Sunday, August 17, 2003

The Pink Guy

We've seen it happen on Felicity. It has happened to me. I put my new maroon Thai shirt to wash, and now the rest of my laundry is pink. Help! I'm seeing pink! The shirts glow (with the colour of pink) in defiance, taunting me for my misfortune! My eyes! Never in any other circumstance is pink the most depressing colour.

(Or is it?)

UPDATE: "A study once put weightlifters to a test. They had to lift a specific weight in a room with red walls, and, after resting, lift the same load in a room with pink walls. The result? The weightlifters were able to lift the heavy load in the red room, but not in the pink one."

| 8/17/2003 10:49:00 PM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Amazing Thailand

Here's a slap to Malaysia: You think Malaysian hospitality is legendary? Shameless egocentric nation! If there's any country that should be renowned for hospitality or even civility, it should be Thailand, beating Malaysia any day.

Not only were our hosts, students of Srinakharinwirot University (SWU), really, really nice to us, (which I have yet to see coming from our students whenever they send us their Thai classical music and dance troupe a-visiting) but you can gather from their smiles, their mannerisms, their language, their culture, a real atmosphere of gentleness and goodwill. Why, they drive like angels compared to Malaysians: primal, barbaric demons of the road.

Well, that's my bit for the Malaysian bloggers' national pastime: self-deprecation.

And now, essential Thailand trivia!

- A nonstop bus trip from KL to Bangkok (two nights and a day) can be a literal pain in the ass.

- The wai — the timeless bow-head-with-palms-together-near-chin gesture which you often see celebs like Carlos Santana doing — is, I think, the nicest and not to mention the handiest (so to speak) for-any-occasion gesture of greeting in the world. (The handshake requires touching, which also requires some limitations such as a melee-range distance and clean snot-free hands. The bow, as the Japanese do, appears rather formal, as does the handshake.)

- Thais are generally a warm and friendly people; a definite fresh change from Malaysian Cynicism. I sense it even in the language as it is spoken. If, at all, you were to spot Thai youths who dress in punk or grunge sensibilities, tattooed and stuff, whose supercilious scowls suggest the rare cynicism of Thai society, wait until you hear them speak. For when you do, you'll experience a paradigm shift: they can sound just as mild-mannered as your tour guide. Speaking Thai, oddly, makes anyone sound nice.

- Why and how the heck is that possible? Might help to know as a clue that in Thai language there's a word, or perhaps more like a spoken punctuation, used at the end of sentences to denote politeness: krap used by males (pronounced "cup" as it turns out, not "crap"), ka by females, FYI. Like the way you punctuate your English sentences with "fucking" to denote frustration. See, that's how much courtesy is part and parcel of Thai.

- Well, in the extreme, it makes people sound... effeminate. The pitch of your voice sort of rises in Thai. Being Richard Simmons here is quite normal, I'm compelled to assume. I wonder if the culture of uber-gentleness has something to do with the omnipresence of ladyboys. A side effect, if you could see it that way. (S cracked up when I used the term "side effect.")

- You must have heard of the Thai succubus/vampiress; famously part of Southeast Asian ghost lore. If I'm not mistaken, she is claimed to be the explaination for mysterious deaths of healthy young men in their sleep. This evil spirit roams the night looking for a slumbering rod, and when she does she fucks him to death. Or does she suck his blood dry? Don't quite remember how it goes, but the gist is that her victims are found dead by the morn. So men who fear her, go to bed disguised in women's clothes and makeup. Whether or not you want to concretely associate this legend to the generally accepted ubiquity of drag queens in Thailand is up to you.

- Students from SWU's Faculty of Fine Arts were our wonderful hosts. They bothered to have a "buddy system" effective throughout our stay: each of us was assigned one or more personal "buddies" for all the small talk one could possibly manage during a long bus trip to a show venue. Mind you, Thais in general suck at English (not unlike some of my own countrymen, I admit); still it wasn't so big a deal because our buddies were very understanding and lots of fun. Ladyboy buddies included.

- University students here wear uniforms.

- One of our most interesting buddies is Didi. This tall, lanky, brash, er, person... wears pants as part of his uniform, which indicates his technical maleness. But he tells us that he'll have a sex change in the future, with his mom's blessing and — read this — financing. Aww! It's nothing unusual in the family, says he. (Fortunately for the dear mother, I believe sex change operations are cheapest in Thailand.) Meantime, while we were at Pattaya Beach, Didi wore a swimsuit top, and whilst out of water, constantly crossed his arms across his truthfully nonexistent breasts. He's quite a funny creature to watch really (from a distance, if you ask me).

- And there's this guy called Pooky. Oh how we love to call out his name, only because it's the Malay slang for "vagina" and he has no clue. He's incredibly sissy; positively gay; likes me; but (to my relief) he's not as loud a ladyboy as Didi and he respects my precious personal space. Grateful.

- Real guys are not Bangkok's dodos yet though. There's this buddy, whose name was easy to forget; I call him Duta (because that's who he strikingly looks like, the frontman of Sheila On 7). He's got that grungy look. Chin hair. Not very talkative (works for him; came across as a curiousity for the girls; plus, being chatty is ladyboyish). Most plainly, he moves like a guy. Still, even he isn't spared by his native tongue, which does not fail to bestow him the nasal voice of Justin Timberlake. Our coolest-looking guy buddy anyway IMHO.

- But the guy's guys don't necessarily exclude themselves from experimenting, as we soon learned. Another buddy — a little neater, taller and beefier than Duta, whose name I don't remember either (see a pattern here) — passed to us, for our edutainment, a group photo of him and his other guy friends... cross-dressed. I found it virtually impossible to recognise them, makeup and all. Could've sworn they were women. I mentally applauded the convincingness as I passed the photo to the next person. I looked back at Big Buddy. He has a girlfriend, right? I bet my bottom dollar all their girlfriends are OK with cross-dressing boyfriends.

- The guys seem all too interesting, don't they. It's the Thai girls' turn now. They're not too girly, they carry themselves well, they're sophisticated — they're practically women. As part of their uniforms, they may opt to wear ankle- or knee-length (a little higher actually) skirts. Most wear knee-length skirts. With those, they wear heels. For that, I'm grateful. Indeed they were friendly and good company. And yeah I do remember all their names: Kim, Tom, Am... Kim... er, not anymore though.

- Stray dogs are everywhere in suburban Thailand. The Muslims in our group must avoid them like hornets. The non-Muslims among us were helpful in this situation. Shoo, curious nosy dog, shoo. The uninformed Thai looks on with bewilderment. Mass cynophobia?

- There's a very old Thai saying that goes, translated literally: "Can you eat Thai food?" Which ultimately means: "Can you tolerate spicy food?" I can totally eat spicy Malay and Indian food like I've eaten them all my life (actually, I have), but I think I've finally found my threshold of pain in Thai cuisine. Honestly, what do they put in their food? Magma? Particularly hot was the dish — don't know what it's called — of little chunks of chicken with herbs, served with rice and eaten as you would a nasi paprik... it was plainly a difficult plate of fiery, corrosive torture. That, and tomyam, make for quite a sweaty dining experience.

- Something else about Thai food: they like it sweet, too. The rice in their chicken rice is sweet. Even bottled milk there is remarkably saccharine. Someone said that it explains why people in Kelantan, a Malay state with a rich history of Siamese influence, like their food sweet as well.

- All the rambutans and longans we could eat. Plus watermelons, at our poshier meals. I'm thankful, because iced water is NOT a viable remedy for a chemically burned tongue.

- RM1 = about 10 baht.

- What do you shop for in Thailand? Bargains, whenever possible. Clothes in particular are definite to-shop-fors in Bangkok; especially true for me since I was in eager need of updating a sparse wardrobe. There are exquisite batik, songket and other fare of clothing at Impact, a huge sparkling mall of handicrafts and such, which we had great pleasure browsing through. I got me a songket shirt that dazzled me with its ethno-swankiness and extravagance oft associated with songketcraft plus the outragous discounts that would've been inconceivable in KL, and an ethnic cotton long-sleeved thing that would look cool as a baju Melayu variation good for Sunday uptown strolls.

- And then there are the myriad t-shirts you can find everywhere — statement shirts, punchline shirts, rock band shirts, faux branded shirts, I've-been-to-Thailand shirts and sin shirts; from the plain to the profane, from the suggestive to the scandalous. Bought many, chiefly the obligatory Amazing Thailand assortment. Also got a nifty one with an Intel logo that says "it hurts inside." It was too hard to pick out something tasteful enough from the adult crop, sadly.

- I was particularly keen on taking home a marijuana t-shirt; you know, "Marijuana" on a Mastercard or McDonald's logo, that sort. Spotted lots of those at a night market, but regrettably didn't buy any. Settled on a nice one at Bangkok's Sunday Market — a classy "High Society" marijuana advert. (It was a miracle that I managed to sneak this confiscatable souvenir through the Malaysia-Thailand border — wearing it. I am a god.)

- CDs and cassettes are cheaper in Thailand! It's like a whopping RM10 knocked off the original prices in Malaysia; that's approximately 90 baht cassettes and 300 baht CDs. I grabbed a Radiohead CD, Hail To The Thief.

- Correct me if I'm mistaken, but cybercafes are outragously costly at 1 baht per minute — adds up to the equivalent of RM6 per hour! And if my mind wasn't playing tricks, electronic goods seem to cost a little more than at home, too. Is this making Thailand the least wired of Southeast Asian nations? (Everyone has a cellphone, though.) They seem to be, after all, the least populous SE Asian nation of bloggers.

- Our usual repertoire of dances: Some Malay folk dances like zapin, joget and inang, a couple of exotic ones like andang and pasambahan, and Sabahan and Sarawakian dances including the sumazau, the ngajat, and the crowd-stopper — the mangunatip. (A lively, suspenseful bamboo-skipping dance, in which I am one of the dexterous "warriors." Sexay.)

- We performed for our host, SWU Arts and Social Sciences campus (which was where we stayed in). They loved us to bits. As soon as we were done, after the Malaysian tourism video, after the little speeches, after formal pictures were taken... the hall-full of students came tumbling down at us, for our autographs! Exuberant girls and guys alike scrambled for signatures and email addresses especially of the more notable dancers... which I was one admittedly. What a rush! I never expected that kind of admiration ever. (Which just goes to show what wonderful people Thais are. I personally doubt that Malaysian students would do the same if SWU's classical dance troupe performed at UM; we'd probably applaud with enough gusto to say "oh we see this sort of thing all the time.")

- Did shows at a few primary schools outside Bangkok. My, my, those impressionable kids. They definitely loved us, too. (The mangunatip especially had them spellbound, of course.) When we were done, and loading our props back into the bus in shirts and jeans, several of them came over to get our autographs. Flattering! As the bus rolled out of the school, we waved them goodbye through our windows... and they waved back frantically, even tailing the bus until it reached the gates. Cute! And the few young ladyboys among them blew us wide flying kisses. Charming!

- Did a couple more at other universities. As usual, we were very well received by the students. Although at one of our venues, we observed that the audience was made up solely of a dozen or two serious, older range of people; many with big cameras at the ready. One Caucasian geezer had Einstein hair. We learned that some of them were doing their theses on Asian art or culture or something, and they've come from far away for this. They were academic elites. We weren't there primarily to entertain, we realized, but to educate. Hell, we had no idea. Kind of made us wish we had performed with more umph that (lazy) afternoon.

- Also did one at the SWU Science-Medicine-Engineering campus, which proved to be an audience that somewhat perplexed us. Lukewarm response. The most tepid we've had. These students had either blurry "what's going on?" looks or politely disguised "I was forced to attend this" faces colouring the ironically packed hall. Backstage, we were like, "Did you see that? Squares, all of 'em!" They fell too easily into the chronic-nerd pigeonhole. What a surprise it was for them to learn that within this artsy-shmartsy cultural dance troupe from abroad, there are some science, medicine and engineering students (like yours truly) too. Ah, paradigm shift. (Nonetheless, they were still our only student audience that did not ask for autographs.)

- We even did a show at the National Cultural Centre. Which was quite an honour for us, since we're just a bunch of amateurs. Rather competent, professional and respectable for mere amateurs, we're told.

- People of Bangkok, if you happened to see a lineup of smileys in various exotic traditional Malaysian costumes marching up and down a Skytrain station, across the busy highway and into Co-Co Walk Plaza, to the beat of merry singsong tablas and gongs one late afternoon... well, you've had a glimpse of this blogger. If you wished for a heavy downpour to halt our show midway through, well, you suck. If you were part of the admiring audience, well, we owe you one.

- Lovely strippers dancing round your poles, if you saw a guy waving at you as he passed by the wide open entrance of your place of work one night last week, well now you know who he was.

Sawatdee kraaaaaap!

| 8/10/2003 03:33:00 PM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!