Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Porni's Post

Hello world! Poorni is feeling a bit under the weather today, so this is Porni doing the honors. In case you don't know me, just check out the first post in this blog.

Anyway, me being here, I think we all know that fun stuff is coming up. (Down with the prudes!)

First, I should mention that I went with my friends to China Town. And of all the things that I could have seen and committed to memory, one image burned onto the mind, never to be forgotten, is that of certain stalls on the street.

Now, I am not a retiring school teacher who secretly reads novels of a suspect nature. I read them openly. I also don't look away when people get it on on the screen. I hit rewind. (Woohoo!) But that's as far as I go. I mean, I'm not sick. I don't wanna go to certain countries in the world just to see if they really do make out in public. Not that I won't look...

But, coming to the point, looking is exactly what I had trouble with as I walked down the street in China Town. When one of the group pointed and said, 'look at that!,' I peered at stalls with some plasticky stuff that looked all pink and brown and what not. It didn't register immediately. When it did, I reared back like a virginal horse that's been slapped on the butt (not a classy visual, but somewhat kinky).

You may look at that image and smile, but let me tell you that it was an act of moral courage that's letting you ogle at it! It happened thusly- I knew I had to take a pic, but I couldn't bring myself to. I blushed to the roots and walked quickly, grasping my camera in a death grip, chanting, 'I can't do it, I can't do it.' The only way I could, finally, was to hold my camera up and walk fast, clicking randomly as I went, making zero eye contact with anyone and pretending I had no clue what my hands were doing. That last bit didn't come out right, but you know what I mean ;) The reason is, sigh, again, coz I'm Indian. We pretend people get pregnant magically. (Seriously. Look up Hindu mythology.)

So, maybe I don't get an award, but in my eyes, what I did for the public (you), makes me a hero... *sniff. *bows to applause.

Now, the next pic was easy, coz I was the only person in this beautiful old house museum. So I could stop and zoom in, study it from all angles and all that. There's a serious post coming up about the museum itself, but this one pic is a better fit in this post.

Those old dogs! Will you look at that?! You know, the more I see of ancient art and literature across cultures, the more convinced I am that, as a species, we used to have a much better time back then. Baffles me how we've changed and why! How did the Kamasutra people become expert roll-on-oops-roll-off lovers? How did these way-too-literal animal lovers become such a strait-laced society?

I guess history is like that. Meteors came and wiped out dinosaurs, some force of nature came along and made us adopt manners. But then, I guess, being frustrated is better than being extinct. Aah, another moral from another sweet story- count your blessings! ;)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Ugly

I've never thought of myself as terribly naive. I don't believe I am. But I see of late that I have a lot to learn about the world. I've been reading a discussion on Facebook - a post put up by an acquaintance about discrimination based on the color of her skin (she is an African American). It has evolved into a long thread with a great many insights and ordinarily, I would have simply read through it as a third person unaffected by such things, only half-believing that they exist. But now, I pause and I read it all, my brows furrowed and my heart saddened, because it has become personal to me.

I am no stranger to discrimination. No free thinking woman in India can blind herself to the constraints she must sometimes fight and sometimes, sadly, give in to. It shapes our lives. But racism is new to me, and as I sit here, alone in a way that I cannot describe, there is a part of me suspended in disbelief.

A common sight I have seen here in Bangkok is that of the older white man and the much younger Thai woman. Being cynical, I have asked many people about it, but the answers have never been the conclusion I jumped to- that it has an ulterior purpose, that it is advantageous to the couple in some financial or political way.

But is it all down to love? I somehow can't believe that. Like I said, I'm cynical. But then maybe I do have a point too. There is a preference in this country for foreigners from certain countries. And the other, uglier side of the coin does exist.

When I was growing up in Kuwait, I hated the way Filipinos were treated. The Kuwaitis were super arrogant and regarded them as animals to be used. Low wages, bad working conditions, sexually assaulted,.. you name it. And after all this time, I come to this country and I see that there are Filipino teachers here, who get paid a fraction of what 'native speakers' are paid. The ads specifically ask for 'Filipino teachers'. To be read as 'people we can screw over,' I guess.

I've been searching for a job as an English teacher for a while now. I cannot tell you how many closed doors I have seen on account of racial discrimination. Agents and schools who aren't even willing to consider the possibility, in spite of my experience and qualifications. The ads say 'native speakers' and they're crystal clear on it! I am frankly amazed that they hire so many. The thing is - Thailand is a place that many foreigners come to gather teaching experience, which they mostly do for periods as short as 4 to 6 months. It's like a working holiday, which is great for them. But what about the children?

It took me weeks to remember the names of all my kids, to know what their strengths and weaknesses are, how to handle each one and motivate them, how to make sure that I was getting through... I'm no stranger to the fact that education has become a business, but it really has started to hurt me now. It's like a meat factory where they've started selecting on the basis of where the meat is from and how much butchering it will stand, and to hell with the kids at the receiving end.

I remember the teachers I had growing up, their names, the way they looked and behaved in class, the way they made me feel. I want kids to have those kind of memories, and I want to be one of those memories here. I'm still searching for a door that will open. Life will go on either way, I have my plan B and all that, but I guess I had to say all this anyway because it showed me that maybe I am a bit naive- I really thought the world was a much much better place.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Spaced out!

I've always wanted to travel to outerspace. One of the fun questions I torture myself with is: If you could get onto a spaceship right now, leaving behind your family, your life as you've known it, never to come back, would you go? I have a few questions like this I keep for rainy days. It's like mental hara-kiri. Stimulating.

I have a particular fondness for black holes. Even did a paper on them for English class in college. That was all theory and speculation. But now, now, I know the reality of it.

There is a mall out here in Bangkok, called Platinum, well known for its floor upon floor of clothing available at reasonable rates. I went there today.

Walking in that place is like being sucked into a black hole. You lose all sense of space and time. Directions don't exist- up, down, left, right... they just don't make sense anymore. Gravity, however, does exist. It helpfully concentrates all your body weight into your feet. This is closely related to another fact- that the boundary between the living and the dead is also erased. You see, after some time (who knows how long),  you find yourself with your hands on your hips, waddling and shuffling along like a pregnant zombie who doesn't care anymore.

What's frustrating about this particular black hole is that pretty soon, you realize it isn't just one, but a whole series of them just that suck you up and spit you out with no regard for human dignity. What baffles me even now, is how, in that void, in that infinity of space, I managed to turn up at the same bloody spot again and again and again!

After a while, I just gave up and became philosophical. I didn't know where I'd been, I didn't know where I was going, whether I would ever see my family again.... It's when I found that I was giving myself inane advice that somehow linked the clothes I was eyeing to being true to myself (?!) that I knocked myself out (mentally), grabbed the ropes that still linked to my sanity and hauled my weary body up. Almost instantly I found what I was looking for.

The relief, let me tell you, was immediate. They say adversity shows you what kind of person you are. I didn't come out so well at the end of this one, I'm afraid. As soon as I collected my bags and stepped out into the endless corriodor, I looked at all the shops and the only thing that my mind could say was ' Haha! Up yours!' I should have said "Set course for Earth. Warp speed."

Anyway, I'm home...and it's good to be back.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

People & Pooches

I'll get to the fun stuff, as always, but I would like to talk about what I was thinking as I saw this woman yesterday.

She's kinda like the 'bus conductor' for one of these red trucks that ply on the smaller lanes and streets, and cost 7 B for any trip. As I was looking at her, I suddenly felt like I was looking at someone back home. I know its a cliche, but it just struck me so powerfully, that we are people; everywhere we are, we are the same. It doesn't matter if you're standing on a glitzy street or a meadow or a shabby village, we're all still the same.

This woman reminded me of the hard working Indian village women I am familiar with. She was middle aged and one of those souls who seem to just live as a part of where they are, accepting and contributing to life in a small way, unquestioningly, much like a busy ant in a colony- a part of a whole. We're all like that, but some of us struggle against it, some stand out, some go rogue, but not people like her. She was one of those women who cares not the slightest about how she looks, because beauty is not even a frame of reference for her, or how she appears to the world, because what's the point of even thinking about something like that. There's great wisdom in being that simple.

In India, I would look at people like her and marvel at how they can turn out. Some become so hard, as if life has taught them a thing or two, and some cannot stop smiling, as if they've taught life a thing or two... She was one of the latter and I'm glad I got to see her, though she wouldn't agree, I suppose. 'Creepy staring Indian girl who took pictures of me! I don't know why we let 'em in the country....'

So, that was my pensive moment yesterday. I got off the truck and came upon a group of street dogs and herein begins another story. Yes, Thailand has street dogs, though not as many. Not by a long shot! They do look much bigger to me and many of the poor creatures aren't healthy. But they're also so strange.

I've been here for what, two weeks and every time I've passed a street dog I've said something in a loving voice. And not one, NOT EVEN ONE dog has wagged its tail! I have actually never seen it happen, not even once! I mean, what's the point of being a dog, if you're gonna pretend to be a cat?

This is so alien to me because I'm used to friendly street dogs, who in spite of their adversity, always manage to love and smile and show it with vigorous tail wagging or entire-rear-end wagging or the rolling-over-and-exposing-it-all gesture. These dogs do nothing! So, now it's become a mission, of sorts. I need to see a happy street dog and by God, if it means bribing them, I will. I'm Indian, after all. It's our thing. Will let you know how that turns out.

Now, staying on the subject of pets, let me tell you- pet care is a thriving industry in Thailand. Hospitals, grooming centers and such abound. But what blew me away was the accessory section. In Jatujak market, I stopped at a line of shops that seemed to make no sense to me- rows of impossibly tiny clothing. What freaky baby could be this small?! Then I saw the other stuff and I went 'Whoa.....' Take a look at this little bugger here-

Is he living it up or what!

Look at these-

Perhaps its ironic, talking about simplicity and extravagance in the same post., but I guess that's what we're like, all sorts of opposite stuff packaged together. Dumb humans.  ;)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Grand Opulence

Before every chronicler in history lies an important question that repeats itself every time pen is put to paper, or fingers to the keypad. (How terrible does that last bit sound?! Fingers to the keypad... it's a good thing we invented paper first!)

So, the question. How much do I say? Really, this challenge of identifying and filtering out what might be inconsequential or not is quite challenging. Should history have told us, for example, that Galileo liked his toenails painted? You need to think about how much posterity can handle.

I face the same dilemma. Like- should I tell you that the ants here are different from the Indian ones? That you can drive two wheelers on the pavements? That apparently, I'm one of the few people in the world who did not know that Thai transgenders were called 'ladyboys' till I got here?

What I do know I must talk about, though, is some of the touristy stuff. Like the Grand Palace.

First of all, just to get the bitching out of the way, let me tell you that it was like the hottest day ever and from the moment we stepped out, we started slowly baking. 'We' here is my class at the institute where I study. That's us, minus a few people who couldn't make it-

I mention the heat because it impacted the experience totally. First of all, we had to cover up as much as possible because they have a dress code that frankly, I find unreasonable when you compare it to how they dress normally. Anyway, if you don't comply when you show up and actually have some skin peeking through, they'll bundle you up into shirts and sarongs/baggy pants right at the entrance. I went in Indian clothes that helped speed up the convection process. Within minutes of walking around, I wouldn't have cared if someone had handed the deed of the palace over to me- I would have used it to fan myself.

So, I huffed and I puffed and I took pictures. The palace is not what I expected. I thought we'd find a huge entrance in a building that stretched till the horizon and we'd walk through air conditioned corridors, looking at innumerable rooms with artifacts and such. But this was actually a a couple of smaller palaces, a series of halls and room and statues spread out over a huge open courtyard which allowed the sun to hit us from every side. Many halls were closed, many were museums showcasing stuff like weapons and fabric and one housed the Emerald Buddha- which unfortunately we're not allowed to take pictures of. But it was a beautiful statue in an elaborately crafted room and as I sat there for a few minutes admiring the art work and the gold shrine that worked its way almost to the cieling, I couldnt help thinking of Buddha, in his simple robe, sitting under a tree and how this was SO not what he talked about. It's why I decided early on not to become a messiah myself. People just don't listen and it embarrasses me to be worshiped and all that...

So, for me personally, the best bit was actually the ferry ride there and back. The palace is definitely impressive, if grandeur is your kinda scene. Some pics-

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Brahma's Reprieve

So, the Holy Trinity in the Hindu pantheon. Cool guys, all three of 'em. A tad bit hot-headed at times, but hey, nobody's perfect. Especially Brahma- the creator of the Universe (SO ironic!). So put out with him was Shiva, that he cursed him- hit him where it hurt, so to speak. I mean what God wants a curse hanging on him that says he must not be worshiped by beings anywhere in any universe?! But poor, poor Brahma managed to get himself under that very dark cloud. The reasons vary; just do a google search on 'Brahma not worshiped'. It all comes down to either lust, vanity or ego. Sigh.

Anyways, I knew about this whole curse thingy and empathized with the creator. But someone in Thailand  read the fine print on the curse document, found a loophole and totally defied Shiva! Brahma is everywhere here and he is so revered, that when a mentally unstable man destroyed a famous Brahma statue in Bangkok, the man was beaten to death. There are shrines of all sizes on almost every street, always beautifully decorated and well-maintained.

So, what is the moral of the story here? When things look bleak (like being cursed by a fellow God), don't lose hope? Just play it cool and practise your 'I'm back, baby!'?

Yeah, I think so. Look at Brahma. Not only is he back, but people flock to him, offering him cool drinks and stuff. All the shrines you see here will have bottles or cups of juice/coconut water/soft drinks with straws placed helpfully in them.

This is the famous Erawan shrine.

 One can pay money and have the temple dancers perform as he or she prays to God.

This is a smaller shrine on a street close to where I live. Notice the Fanta bottles.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Royal Rules and a Few Fun pics...

I went exploring around Victory Monument- the place where the academy I'm attending is. Some fun pics of things I noticed below. Before that, there are some cultural do's and dont's you pick up living here- the most important of which has to do with the Royal Family.

Basically, the King and the royal family must be respected at all times. No jokes, no light jesting in their name even. The money features their images, so be extra careful- don't stop a runaway bill with your foot or something, unless you want to attend said foot's funeral. The national anthem is a big thing. I think its like an ode to the King- the longest ruling monarch so far in their history, I believe. Anyway, when the anthem plays, you stop, and you stand still. It happened when I was walking through JatuJak market and it happens at the start of every movie in the theatres, along with a video showing pics of the King and his family. He is much loved, and totally respected, and seeing how well these people live and the facilities available to them, I can see why!

Now,  for the promised pictures-

This footwear! Cool...


 Believe in happily ever after? Didn't work for Snow White after all! ;)

 Thais celebrate Halloween?! Many shops in the malls seem to believe so!

First, pick a verb. Then, pick a steak.

 Food for booty, I mean... beauty!

 Barbie contact lens, they call it! Freaky pupil wideners, I call it...

 A whole line of shops doing hair extensions...

Um? :D

Monday, October 7, 2013

Artists at work...

This post has lotsa pics and a couple of videos, so let 'em load! Worth it :)

People line up at 'Made in Candy' to watch an amazing process:

The guy works a big slab of candy:

He works at it (video):

He shapes different color slabs of different sizes:

Then he places them together in layers and cuts off the excess:

 More layers and the guy next to him is putting together some layers too, to go on top:

That colored layer goes on top too:

Now the miracle happens as he slowly pulls it:

The pulled candy is stretched and cut. See how awesome it is:

In the end, the strips are cut into bits and my god, the detail inside! Take a look at these:

They can do such intricate stuff! Some had 'I love you' and all. Very cute!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

JatuJak Market

Imagine a huge market. Now imagine a mad scientist planted radioactive waste right at its center and the market mutated into a ginormous massive uber-creative phenomenon. That's JatuJak.

I cracked my knuckles and stretched my legs standing outside the market, anticipating some serious spending. Five minutes in, I knew I would buy next to nothing. 10 minutes in, my brain refused to process all the signals my retinas were registering. Over the next few hours, I had to find unused store front steps frequently to rest my weary legs.

The variety of beautiful things was overwhelming. Down one pathway you're in Aladdin's cave, surrounded by golden glittering objects. Take a left and you feel like Gulliver in the land of miniatures. A world of aroma, an enchanted forest, Paris fashion on coat hangers, walls of jewellery, greenery, food carts... everything that man can make, grow or imagine can be bought here. Overwhelming. Truly.

I took a few pictures only, coz its just futile to even imagine capturing everything... 

Scented soaps

A nice snack...

Like our gola
 Funky 'toilet' signs
 My fav one :D I have a thing for zombies and skeletons

 Fried quail eggs. Looks like our paniyaram pans. They put on on top of the other to make a sphere and sell it sometimes. But usually, you get a small plateful of them sprinkled with seasonings...

 Funky Bags... The huge faces with little bodies attached below

 There were quite a few shops with animal stuff, or stuffed animals, I should say. Not very pleasant, but this one was quirky. I have no clue why there is money in his mouth...

Papaya or mango salad is very common. They throw stuff in a large woden mortar and with a pestle and a ladle, add a whole host of stuff and mix it in.

The sticky yummy mango rice :)

Many plant shops too- I gawked at the Venus flytraps and all...

 Is this honeycomb? I don't know..

Across the road is the farmer's market that I briefly walked through. Again, perfect. This operates on all days of the week whereas JatuJak comes alive on the weekends. Lotsa fruits and veggies- all looking fresh and luscious!