Monday, May 05, 2008


Last July, I posted about a Thai Beatles tribute band called "The Beaters." Since then, I've seen the band several times and have become friends with the guy who plays "John" (I still don't know his real name though, I just call him John). Well John also plays in another Beatles tribute, this one is called "The Better" (no, not "The Betters," simply "The Better"). I've also seen them a few times, most recently the other day at a fair promoting products that are good for the environment.

I actually like "The Better" a bit better, mainly because their "George" has some kind of midi-hookup on his guitar that allows him to play certain parts for songs like "A Day in the Life," "Penny Lane," and "I Am The Walrus" that sound almost exactly the way they were originally recorded. When you throw in a few other favorites like "Please Please Me," "Yesterday," "Hey Jude," "Octopus's Garden" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand," you have a pretty entertaining show.

The Better play every Friday night at O'Reilley's Irish Pub on Silom Road, so if you're ever in the area, check them out.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Like many places in Asia, Bangkok is a hotbed of pirated goods: CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, designer handbags, software...

You name it, if it can be copied cheaply and sold at a profit, it's probably available in Bangkok. And the stuff is not hard to find. One can barely walk down the sidewalk without running into a vendor hawking a copy of something and there are even entire malls dedicated to bootleg merchandise.

Here's an example of a well-known brand identity that has been appropriated for another purpose: the KISS Go-Go bar in Patpong.

Before we relocated here in June 2006, I was a lifelong resident of Detroit Rock City and have been a card-carrying member of the KISS Army since the age of 8. Somehow, I have a feeling that Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and the rest of the Knights In Satan's Service have nothing to do with this place.

And based on it's location in seedy Patpong (otherwise known as the armpit of the Universe), I'm willing to bet that there's a lot more being served up in the KISS bar than a little Cold Gin...

Rock and Roll All Nite (and Party Everyday) indeed!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Since we were in Northern Thailand, I felt it was important to see some of the indigenous people of the region, and there are certainly opportunities to do just that, but afterwards I had rather mixed feelings about the whole experience.

What I really wanted to check out were the famous "Long Neck" women of the Karen tribe. I think everyone has seen pictures of these ladies in publications like National Geographic or on the Discovery Channel, but how many people can actually say they saw them in person? To me that chance was too good to pass up, despite the protests from my wife who had read that the villages are nothing more than tourist traps, these people are basically exploited, treated like sideshow attractions and held against their will. I'm not sure how much of this is true, but after the visit I feel it's probably a strong possibility.

The day before, we visited the Hilltribe Museum and Education Center in downtown Chiang Rai (no photos were allowed) and they also claim that everything my wife was saying was correct and one could learn more there than if they actually visited the villages. Still, I was determined to see for myself...

We arrived at the village and paid our 300 baht (around $10) apiece to enter. The first thing that is unusual about the village is that it gathers several hilltribes together. I don't think these people really live like this. The first woman we saw was from the Palong tribe, famous for their large earrings.

The Akha tribe wears distinctive headdresses and clothing. They originate from China and throughout history have worked in rice fields. The houses they live in are on situated on stilts.

The Lu Mien-Yao tribe also hails from China (Tibet), but have immigrated to places like Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. They have their own unique clothing and headdresses that distinguish them from the Akha tribe.

The Lahu-Muser tribe are known to be experts in herbal medicine as well as hunting and trapping. When we visited them, they treated us to an ethnic dance and music performance.

The Karen tribe comes from Myanmar (originally known as Burma) and their distinguishing characteristic is only far too obvious. I'm not sure what the reason for their neck rings are, but the handout at the village claims they help the women maintain individual and tribal identity while at the same time protecting them from tiger bites. They also wear the rings around their wrists and ankles and the whole getup has to be terribly uncomfortable for them.

The women start to wear the rings at an early age (and many youngsters at the village were already sporting them). From what I've read, the practice does not actually stretch their necks, but rather collapses their shoulders resulting in disfigurement. It's an odd practice, that's for sure.

The rings themselves are quite heavy. As you can see, this one weighs about 5.5 kilos, which is just over 12 pounds. I can't imagine how that must feel.

Many of the women in the camp smiled for photos, but most seemed bored and apathetic. Perhaps they are tired of tourists and being asked to pose all the time and maybe they are being held their against their will, and if they are, why isn't anyone in the Thai government doing anything about it? And that begs the question, am I an irresponsible tourist for wanting to visit this village?

It can be argued that our visit didn't help exploit the situation any more than the bus loads of tourists whom were already there and if we decided not to go on principle, it wouldn't have done any good overall either.

Is this place like a human zoo? In a way, I think the answer is yes. We paid money just to look and take picture of people living in a habitat that is close, but not exactly like their real home. Of course, there are people in Bangkok paying money to look at women every night. Is this kind of exploitation the same thing?

But are these people really worse off now than they would be if they weren't there? Doesn't sitting around posing for pictures and selling trinkets and souvenirs seem like a much easier way of life than toiling in a rice field all day with a baby strapped to your back? I'm willing to bet they probably make more money at the village than doing that...

These are the questions that caused me to have mixed feelings about this excursion. I'm glad I went. I got some interesting photos and memories, but I also felt odd about it and at the same time, thankful for the way my life has turned out so far.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Wat Phra Kaew

Located in the heart of downtown Chiang Ria, Wat Phra Kaew is the city's most famous wat, mainly because it was the original home of the Emerald Buddha, which now resides at a wat with the same name at the Grand Palace in Bangkok (see related post from July 11, 2006).

This wat also is associated with a local legend. Rather than retype the whole thing in my own words, you can read about it below:

While we were there, we chatted with a few monks. The one on the right wanted to know if we were excited to have Hillary Clinton be our next Prime Minister.

Wat Phra That Doi Wao

Situated on a steep hill in Mae Sai near the Myanmar border, this wat is said to have been built in memory of several thousand Burmese soldiers who died fighting there in 1965. We were too lazy to climb to the top, so we hired motorcycles to take us there for 10 baht apiece.

Once atop the summit, we had a nice view of Myanmar.

If you look closely, you can see another wat just across the border (it's the building with the steeple).

I'm not sure what the significance of this scorpion statue is (the sign was in Thai).

Wat Chedi Luang

The province of Chiang Saen (near the Mekong River) is home to many ancient wats and the whole area has a similar feel to the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya (see related blog entry from January 21, 2007). I personally like these kinds of places because the experience of visiting them is like taking a step back in time.

Wat Chedi Luang dates back to sometime between the 12th and 14th Centuries. They just don't have things that old in the US.

Wat Pa Sak

This impressive wat also dates back to the 14th Century and is made up of seven monuments. I found the ruins to be surprisingly well-preserved for their age.

Wat Athi Ton Kaew

In some instances, it seems as if parts of the city were actually built up around the ruins. As you can see here, Wat Athi Ton Kaew is located right next to someones house (what you can't see is that it is also in front of a plantation of banana trees).

The most interesting thing about this wat is that it is evidence of the practice of building a brick stupa over an older existing one.

The brick stupa dates back to 1515. The date of the one underneath is unknown.

Wat Luang

Located in Chiang Khong near the Laos border, Wat Luang is one of the most colorful wats I can recall visiting, both inside and out.

The paintings in the interior reminded me a lot of the ones you'd find in an old Italian church, not because of their style, but the fact that there were so many of them and they all seemed to be telling different parts of a religious story.

Beyond the bowls of rice and the Mekong River is Laos. Hopefully we'll visit there someday.