Happy Valentines Day

15 02 2015

…although not everybody thought so. In Japan, the Revolutionary Alliance of Men that Women Consider Sexually Unattractive held an anti-Valentine march through Shibuya to protest against “oppressive chocolate capitalism”.

And in China, the single had already celebrated with their January 11 “Bare Stick” day, a cyber-rite which appeared out of the blue in 1993 and rapidly spread across China via the internet, whereby loveless men celebrate their singledom and buy themselves presents (a practice hastily commodified by online shopping portal Ali Baba, which has turned the bachelor ritual into the busiest day for online sales globally.)

Could the event soon by heading worldwide?





Mummified 200-year-old monk found in Mongolia in ‘very deep meditation’, Buddhist academic claims

7 02 2015

 

A tale of mystery, wonder, corpse-thievery, supernatural powers and Buddhist redemption – the full story at the Independent here.





Hundreds of cats to be crushed in building demolition

28 01 2015

Coconuts Bangkok reports on the tragic fate in store for hundreds of stray cats who have Murakami-esquely taken over an empty apartment block in Bangkok.





Bangkok Part 2: A city of surprises

4 01 2015

A few days into my trip, the surprises kept coming. I saw a white-haired white man stroking a white-haired cat at 2am at a table of hookers in sparkly minidresses, surrounded by the the sprawling bodies of sleeping kids and adults. I saw a man passed out in a Santa hat outside a temple on New Years Eve, with a pack of wild street dogs sleeping around him – one under his head like a pillow. A tut-tutting passerby snatched the few banknotes out of his begging tin and tucked them in to the sleeping man’s belt as he lay lost to the world.

I saw a homeless woman with four cats on plastic strings. I went to  internet cafes in the middle of the night filled with Middle Eastern tourists yelling down the phonelines to Cairo and Morocco, where the keyboard default language was Arabic and my browsing was interrupted by an amplified call to prayer.

I saw dwarf monks, and stumbled on to a huge kerbside statue of a gorilla. I found a coffee shop next to a mosque with an inflatable Darth Vader peering out of a top floor window. I saw a flock of pigeons roosting in the glittering eaves of a riverside temple and stumbled across an altar of offerings book-ended by enormous cigarette-like bundles of incense, each a metre tall, in the middle of an alleyway in Chinatown. I saw a clown in a blonde wig dancing in a vegetable market. And a Japanese porn star. And a friend’s ex.

And I discovered more and more of the strange and unexpected sights with which the city is so richly endowed.





Bangkok surprise #1: singing at the llama farm

4 01 2015

This year, my home city of Melbourne opened its first cat cafe, a place based on the Japanese model where patrons can sip a coffee and stroke a selection of cats. It was lauded as a hot new thing. Pfffft. Bangkok is so far beyond that it is not even funny. The Thai capital is doing karaoke with alpacas. “Alpaca View” is a restaurant, bar and “karaoke farm” in Lad Phrao where the main attraction (obviously) is singing in a barnyard-like environment complete with pigs, and dining next to a herd of alpacas. The alpacas have been conditioned to come right up to the fence of their enclosure to be fed, and sometimes poke their heads over inquisitively at the nearest tables. But I did wonder: how do the poor creatures deal with the city’s heat and humidity?

There is also a flock of free-ranging, unrestrained rabbits who roam the premises and – what the hell? – a white picket Eiffel Tower in which sits an effigy of Spiderman.

The restaurant is part of a wider trend in Thailand towards camelid-related attractions. There is also a new alpaca farm in Ratchaburi and a camel theme-park in Hua Hin.





The sea within

4 01 2015

Bangkok represents, in many ways, sensory overload: the sounds of jackhammers and traffic, the heat, the colours,  the smells of exhaust fumes, jasmine and incense, the taste of meat grilled over charcoal…  In fact this aural, olfactory and visual onslaught is a big part of its appeal. But when it all gets too much, and it can turn quite suddenly, the city can start to feel overwhelming.  A favourite strategy is to hail a random cab and enjoy a few minutes (or longer,depending on the notorious traffic) of calm and cool ( the airconditioning!) for a pretty nominal fee.

But if that just doesn’t cut it, the city is now home to two “sensory deprivation” centres for a more complete experience. One is located in suburban Bangna and the other, where I went, in the far Sukhumvit hinterland of  Soi 24, right at its Rama IV end. Here, for the rather steep price of  2000 baht, I enjoyed my first experience in a flotation tank, a gleaming white plastic womb in a darkened room where you can relax in body temperature water five times saltier than the ocean (allowing you to float effortlessly.)

I had wanted to try it for some time. The idea is that without any sensory information to process – no sound, no sight in the pitch black, no discernable smell and only the feel of water the same temperature as your own body, the brain can relax and recalibrate. I did find it deeply relaxing although towards the end, if I’m honest, I got restless, tossing and turning in my pod as my brain, starved for stimulation, sought to create some for itself.

This, I was told afterwards, is typical.

My brain, clamouring for sights,sounds and smells, must have been excited when I stepped out onto the Bangkok streets again.





The temple of the dragon

1 01 2015

Bangkok’s suburbs are peppered with odd and obscure temples and relics which I have explored previously on the blog here, here and here.

But even I had never heard of Wat Samphran, languishing in utter obscurity and virtually forgotten by the rest of the city. This might be understandable if it were just another run-of-the-mill local temple, but for a vermillion tower wrapped by a seventeen storey dragon? Not so much.

The temple is located about an hour and a  half from the backpacker district of Khao San Road. I just hopped on the 123 bus – with its dusty wooden floorboards and overhead fans – heading westwards across the river, getting out at the town of Om Noi. From here it was a short taxi hop to the temple although none of the local drivers had even heard of the temple and they had difficulty finding it even though I had brought the temple name written in Thai, a picture of its distinctive facade and its location on google maps.

But when I finally got to my destination, it was clear that it had been worth the journey. The temple and its dragon appeared over the suburban rooftops and soon we pulled up to its entrance, in a grove of bamboo trees. I had half-expected to find the wat in ruinous solitude, so I was surprised to see throngs of people all around. They were visiting locals, a few monks who lived in the tower and nuns, dressed all in white. There were, of course, no other foreigners.

The tower itself is restricted to monks only, who live in its 108 rooms, and the passageway through the dragon is closed, a friendly nun told me, except for Thai Fathers and Mothers days, Buddha’s Birthday and Chinese New Year.

But even for the Western new year, the temple was busy. Worshippers made offerings in front of a statue of a mysterious dark skinned giant, or rubbed the dragon’s lucky claws. Suddenly, a procession started, with white clad pilgrims circling the building’s grounds led my a group of monks in prayer, presumably praying for a favourable year to come. Suddenly they were all around me.

The grounds yielded more surprises – fantastical giant elephants and peacocks emerging out of the overgrown jungle of the temple gardens.

Hidden in a corner was a gigantic concrete turtle which worshippers could enter into a cave-like tunnel, containing a strange underground Buddha shrine.

In another part of the garden lay this unusual statue of a bed-ridden man with a cone-like protrusion from his mouth. I was intrigued and wished I could read the Thai-language sign. What did it mean? Was it a cautionary tale? A tribute to healers? A Thai folktale?

I left the shrine with lots of questions, but very glad that I had made the effort.








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