Edward's Bangkok Blog

These articles are light-hearted views from 2011 to 2016, when Edward and his wife lived in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Article has image(s) Merry Christmas In Thailand
(by Edward 2011-12-25)

Gimme Sappy Syrup

Call me a idealistic, old-fashioned, emotional sap, but Christmas to me is still a special time of year. As crusty as my outer shell may appear, I love the Christmas decorations in the house, the ambiance of Christmas music playing for days on end, the pictures of family and friends arriving in the mail or email. I love to see my childhood tree ornaments hanging on my tree, and tell the same stories about each one to my kids again, as if they've never heard them before. This seems to be the one time of the year when one can reminisce with others and not sound like a candidate for the old-folks home. And call me what you will, I love it!

Hawaii and Thai Talk-A

Melekalikimaka is an old Christmas song by the Beach Boys that that took on new meaning for me this year. The song talks about spending Christmas in a nontraditional way, distanced from the American mainland, surfing in Hawaii. The song echoes the cultural difference in the chorus: "Melekalikimaka is 'Merry Christmas' in Hawaii talk-a." Excepting the bit about surfing, my family and I experienced a similar nontraditional Christmas away from "home"--our first actually. I confess that the holidays did give rise to some feelings of homesickness in me. Jimmy Buffet's song came to mind: "How'd you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?" I started to think that everyone at home longs for the world, and everyone abroad longs for home. Ah, well, such is our nature. And it is possible that neither Jimmy nor the "Boys" have spent a white-Christmas in the Rockies. But our first Thailand Christmas was still a great and memorable time as we learned from the locals what seems to be their cheerful Thai holiday greeting: "Mellie Kreetsamat!"

The Spirit of the Lights

Because of Thailand's non-Christian roots, I was surprised to see that much of the city was sporting Christmas trees in every mall and foyer. And the Christmas lights were not only beautiful, some were even technically fascinating. There were strings of lights tightly clustered and fashioned into full-sized Christmas trees. And my personal favorite was the new breed of icicle lights. Most people are familiar with the "old-school" icicle lights, which are just foot-long white wires hanging down with lights every few inches. The new-school lights are short tubes of LED's (the type usually used to trim stage corners or airplane walkways), and they are animated to look like they are dripping water. They look so cool they would make any American "Jones" family jealous. But it saddened me to think that Thailand has never really known the Christ in Christmas. The lights are hung to attract foreign shoppers, not to represent the light of the world. Despite the beauty of the lights, there was none of Christ's spirit in the lights. And like the figures at Madame Tussaud's, the decorations were spiritless symbols of things never known. I thought about these things. "Why should I feel sad? This is not my homeland." But then I understood. Like seeing a body without a spirit, I was observing the funeral of a loved one. The spirit of the lights was gone, Christ was removed from Christmas, and all that remained was the corpse. But the most glorious thing about Christ is that He is the resurrection and the life. And although the spirit is missing, one command of Talitha cumi, and it will return! Therefore, I wish everyone--not merely Happy Holidays--but Merry Christmas!

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Posted by: The Dad (2012-01-04)

Hey, I must tell you that  "Melikimikimaka"( spelling?)was originally released by Bing Crosby in the 40's.It was featured in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation too(the Bing version).I remember the smells in the markets of Bangkok,Olangapo City,P.I. and Sasebo,Japan as well as Hong Kong. Much the same and I imagine not changed much.Not Christmassy aromas,as I remember.Look on the brighter side...........you will be back here for Christmas in a few years and all the scents and feelings will come back.

Posted by: Ed (2012-01-04)

Yes, that's true about Bing Crosby releasing Melekalikimaka, but the Beach Boy's song is actually a different song with the same name. [grin]

Posted by: The Dad (2012-01-07)

Hey, I just listened to the Beach Boys version of that song. I thought I had heard all opf their stuff but this was a new one for me. Liked it too. Learn something new every day.........right?

Article has image(s) The Smells Of Bangkok
(by Edward 2012-01-02)

Stinky Technology

Technological breakthroughs are generally viewed as human progress. Commercial success of steamboats, automobiles, fixed-wing aircraft, photographs, and phonographs have forever etched the names of Fulton, Ford, Wright, Eastman, and Edison into the annals of history. But not all technology can be celebrated as ingenious. Eastman's brilliant invention memorized light, and Edison's, sound. But as Rudyard Kipling believed that it was the smell of Bombay that jogged his memories, some believed that we should attempt to reproduce smell as well as sights and sounds. Thus, in the late 1950's, Smell-O-Vision and AromaRama were pursued. Their attempt to include smell in movies then scratched a side note to the annals of history: "this technology stinks...literally." Sadly, it did not also scratch out scratch-and-sniff. Apparently, people feel compelled to remember those favorite smells like the holiday pumpkin pie, birthday cake, and ocean breezes. Until we can correctly "record" the things that stimulate our olfactories, I shall endeavor to describe the common smells of Bangkok.

Sweetness On A Stick

The streets in Bangkok are filled with street vendors selling all varieties of food and wares. Because the food is cooked on the vendor's open-air carts, the streets are filled with a unique mixture of smells. When walking you will inhale the sweet smell of roasted sweet-and-sour pork. A few more steps and you're filled with the delicious smell of dim sum and its accompanying garlic-laden teriyaki sauce. Continue for just one city block you can enjoy the scents of pad thai noodles filled with shrimp and fried tofu, grilled and deep fried chicken, crispy fried bacon, and enormous varieties of fresh fruits including green coconuts, mangos, bananas (sometimes fried), pineapples, dragon fruit, jack fruit, and pomegranates. There is also the sweet smells of fresh waffles coming off the griddle and stuffed with your choice of chocolate, raisins, maple brown sugar, or the incredibly delicious green tea flavored Thai custard. The smells alone seem to be so caloric that even while walking you feel like you're gaining weight. Almost all of the meats are served on skewers so that it reminds me of the favorite saying of an old surfer friend of mine: "Sweetness on a stick!"

The Fly In The Ointment

The wisest man who ever lived said that dead flies make even perfume to stink. And sadly, the streets of Bangkok are not purely aromatic. Just as you're breathing deep to enjoy the delicious smells described above, you may instead fill your nostrils with the pungent rottenness of one of the many stagnant canals or open sewers. And while all of the taxis and many other vehicles run on propane, the traffic is so dense that you are likely to fill your lungs with stinky diesel exhaust and gasoline hydrocarbons, as well. It is this strange mixture of delicious and poisonous smells that is the hallmark of this environment. I used to banter with a friend that it doesn't matter if the food on your plate gets a little mixed because "it's all going to the same place." But I have seen the error of my ways, and in terms of Bangkok's smells, I just wish everything would stay distinctly separate.

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Article has image(s) Busy And Bored
(by Edward 2012-01-20)

Such Beautiful Music

I came to the opinion years ago that I'd rather be busy than bored. Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities it is common to hear me say my cheer-me-upper phrase. I almost sing it: "It's better to be busy than bored!" When my kids complain about too much homework, too many chores, too much blah-bee-dippity-blah, I give them the reprise: "It's better to be busy than bored!" (Of course, this is only after I've given my "you-don't-know-what-busy-is" lecture.) Like the "A-B-C" song or "99 Bottles," it is a horrible song to hear, but great fun to sing.

The Invisible Rack

I think humanity generally feels that boredom is best suited as a form of punishment or torture. Boredom makes your sanity feels strapped to an invisible rack, and every turn of the second-hand feels like a turn of the crank tearing it asunder. Some old adages even make boredom a thing demonic: "Boredom is the devil's playground," and "idle hands are the devil's workshop." Then think of some of the common forms of punishment employed by modern parents and even schoolteachers. "You're grounded," "time out," "go to your room," "stand in the corner," "write this sentence fifty times," and a multitudinous ocean of other prohibitions where each billow is a new restriction with the sole purpose of causing punishment through boredom.

Mutual Exclusivity

I used to think that being busy and being bored were mutually exclusive, like darkness and light, pop artists and talent, or politicians and common sense. I used to think that getting busy was a sure antidote for the sickness of boredom. But this very night in Bangkok, my own eyes witnessed masses of people who were both busy and bored at the same time, thus proving my ignorance. We were passing flyers at the Chong Nonsi BTS station, and I saw hundreds of passerby's who shared the same attributes: they walked quickly while simultaneously talking or texting on the phone, and each wore such doleful indifference on their face that I thought they were all returning home to angry parents who'd grounded them. The more I thought about this, the more I felt I had uncovered one of the many mysteries of this unique Asian culture: many--perhaps most--of the people are both busy and bored. And although I believe I've seen them both living together, I wouldn't describe it as a love-match.

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