Samantha Brown – Southeast Asian-based journalist and editor

Bangkok-style Bauhaus

31.08.2000 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Lifestyle ::

Just the thought of renovating a home can make some people shudder; renovating a home while living in a foreign country presents an even greater challenge. But completely renovating a home overseas when you don’t even own it?

To Australian designer Kristina Zanic and her fiance, it seemed like the obvious thing to do. Bangkok-based Zanic is passionate about design and the couple have collected an eclectic range of items on their travels throughout Asia they wished to house in good taste.

They found a four-bedroom house built in the ‘60s in what Zanic calls “tropical architecture style”. The house is typical of 60s architecture, with exposed beams and wooden-framed windows. Houses in this style are not just plentiful in Bangkok, but are found right across Asia. “It’s basically a Bauhaus modernist style, with lots of concrete and brick work. What’s good about this style is that it’s spacious: it’s not boxy,” Zanic says enthusiastically.

Zanic negotiated with the landlord for reduced rent, in return for which she would completely renovate the place. “Everyone said ‘Oh my god! You’re not going to tackle this!’ The house was in disrepair. It was awful! There were fluorescent lights, and snail trails of wiring across the ceiling… We’ve really fixed up the structure to make the lines cleaner. It’s homey now. It’s very comfortable.”

The back patio area was one spot Zanic was enthusiastic about from the start . “I wanted to create a fabulous garden area. Much of the house is glass, so when you walk into the dining and living area, you see the garden immediately.”

The narrow L-shaped area was laid with terracotta tiles, bamboo walling was installed, and pieces of ancient pottery were placed around a garden setting. “It’s really inviting. It enhances the whole house. The outdoor lighting I’ve installed means we can use the area at night as well. ”

Zanic says she finds the downstairs living area, which looks onto the garden, the most interesting. “We’ve got a lot of artwork on display, a lot of pottery. Downlights create soft lighting – a complete contrast to the pure white light that was in the house beforehand.”

Zanic came to Thailand seven years ago. Today she owns design group City Space Design (htpp://www.cityspace.net) and has recently drawn on her love of designing beautiful items for the home with an Asian influence by opening a retail shop called Asia Motifs (http://www.motifdesigns.com).

So perhaps it’s no wonder that Kristina hasn’t had time to attack the top floor of her house yet: “I’m just taking my time – seeing where my moods take me, then designing something new, buying new fabrics and redoing things.” Nor is it suprising that Zanic plans on staying put in Bangkok for as long as she can.

Pre-natal poses

26.08.2000 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Health & beauty ::

“Yoga poses can nurture the pregnant woman in a way that other forms of exercise won’t. Lying on bolsters and having pillows and blankets all around you – I mean, how luxurious!. And then being told to just lie there and breath…”

Canadian Leslie Hogya, an Iyengar yoga instructor currently teaching pre-natal yoga classes at Bangkok’s Iyengar Yoga Studio, certainly makes yoga during pregnancy sound like a treat. “It’s a special time in your life, especially if it’s your first pregnancy, so you should indulge and take care of yourself.”

In Bangkok, the ancient practice of yoga has been taught formally for only around 40 years – which is rather surprising if you consider that some scholars assert that yoga practice is central to Buddhism. The word yoga means “to join” – at the most basic level, to join the body to the mind, and at a more advanced level, to connect an individual person to the wider universe.

“It’s not a religion per se, but it’s a spiritual practise,” says Leslie. “Anyone can practise yoga – you don’t have to belong to a faith or believe in anything in particular. One of my favourite yoga teachers is a Catholic priest from India.”

Practising yoga can improve the average person’s body awareness, their clarity of mind and their immunity to disease; more specifically, it can reduce the effects of allergies, improve menstrual problems and strengthen muscles, among plenty of other things.

When pregnant, yoga classes can be particularly beneficial. Firstly, strength and stamina are developed. “When you’re doing the poses you’re strengthening muscles, and building up stamina while holding the poses,” Leslie says. “This will hold you in good stead when you’re delivering and also when you’re a new mother and you need a lot of stamina.”

Secondly, practising breathing and relaxation can help. “These are usually the first things people think of, but they’re definitely not the only things. When I’m teaching pre- natal yoga I always make sure there’s plenty of time for breathing and relaxation at the end of class.” This involves doing supported poses where the body is allowed to totally rest and be open to more complete breathing.

Flexibility also improves with the practise of yoga, but Leslie points out that the hormones secreted during pregnancy actually promote flexibility anyway, particularly in the hips. ”This means you need to be careful not to over-stretch. It’s important to be balanced and not be too enthusiastic about stretching the hip sockets.”

If you’re already practising yoga and you fall pregnant, it’s usually no problem to continue. “But if you’ve never done yoga at all, I recommend waiting until the end of the third month to begin yoga,” Leslie says. “Even though yoga is certainly not going to precipitate a miscarriage, that’s when most miscarriages are likely to occur. You usually have more strength, too, after that period.”

Leslie notes that as a teacher of pre-natal classes, she needs to be more open than usual to how her students are feeling: “Their energy levels can vary so much. Some women are very energetic all through their pregnancy and others aren’t – they can get very much disturbed by anything too strenuous – I can almost see them turning pale if they start to do too much.”

Other women can be hyper sensitive because of the added hormones their body is secreting. “Most people do have a greater awareness of their body – especially if they want that, and if they want to be exploring that and finding out more about how they’re feeling. And then I’ve had other women who refuse to acknowledge that they should do anything differently and they want to charge right on and do all of the difficult poses.”

Leslie notes that there are plenty of women who tend to not want to acknowledge their body is changing when they’re menstruating, or pregnant, or post-natal. But, she says, “Why not celebrate those differences? And do the poses that are going to nurture you. I think it’s good to be a little softer with yourself when you’re pregnant.”

Leslie says she adheres to the school of thought that believes you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself, whatever way you’re doing things. “There’s an aphorism in the yoga sutras that says something about yoga not being so austere that you’re punishing yourself, and not so indulgent that you don’t ever do anything – there’s a balance, a middle road. So there’s discipline, but not austerity.”

If there’s another form of exercise that you’ve been doing prior to falling pregnant, and you still enjoy it while pregnant, she suggests continuing it along with the yoga. “I think it’s important to keep active and healthy using all of your body as much as you can. Women usually know what’s right for them.”

Many women who start yoga during their pregnancy don’t expect to continue with it after delivering. However, Leslie estimates that in her experience, around fifty per cent of the women she knows who have started yoga during pregnancy have kept attending classes for at least some time after their child’s birth. “A lot of the time women will ask: ‘How many weeks do I have to wait before I can come back to class?’ It’s good to wait six weeks, as with any major surgery that you might have.

“It’s best to go back to a beginner’s class – and then try to focus on tightening everything that got loose!”

Leslie, who has studied yoga since 1970, first trained as a hatha yoga instructor, but was introduced to the Iyengar method, pioneered by Indian BKS Iyengar, within weeks of completing her training. “And I couldn’t teach. I couldn’t teach the old way because it wasn’t precise enough. And I couldn’t teach Mr Iyengar’s way because I didn’t know enough about it. So I stopped teaching for a couple of years and trained.”

The Iyengar style is a very precise method of yoga – some might even say strict – but it’s flexible in the sense that it adapts to each individual’s level of ability by its use of various props such as belts, blocks, blankets and bolsters.During pregnancy in particular, it can offer more support than other forms of yoga and allow access to more poses.

“For example when you’re doing standing poses you might be reluctant to try some of them because you think you’ll lose your balance,” says Leslie. “But in Iyengar yoga we can use the wall, or use the chair, or use a block. It opens up the possibility of doing more. Also using bolsters to relax is very beneficial – they open the chest, improve breathing, improve the lung position.”

She emphasises that women can always control how much they are doing in class themselves. “I think usually women are more sensitive to what’s right for them and their health when they’re pregnant. And I think yoga brings an awareness that makes you feel healthy.”

Bangkok’s first Iyengar yoga studio opened only recently. Justin Herold, an American who has been teaching yoga at various health clubs here in Bangkok for the past seven years, opened his own studio on Soi Thong Lor in October 1999. Leslie will be running classes at 9am on Tuesdays through to the end of September, and Justin will continue to take the classes from October. The studio is located on the 3rd floor of the Fiftyfifth Plaza Bld, 90 Sukhumvit Soi 55. Phone 714 9924 for a schedule.

Making a difference from your desk

09.08.2000 (12:00 am) – Filed under: People ::

Picture contributing to your community in some way and you may assume you’d have to spend half a day at a shelter a week or maybe drive a van on the streets. In Bangkok, Australian Margo Towie found a way to assist pregnant and post-natal women without needing to leave her office.

Since January 1999, Towie has been editing the monthly magazine of Bangkok Mothers and Babies International (Bambi), a non-profit organisation providing support and information for English-speaking pregnant women and parents of babies living in Thailand. “The magazine was a time eater when I took it on. The first couple of editions took around 40 hours apiece to get camera ready,” she says.

Towie, a professional journalist, became involved in Bambi around three years ago when pregnant with her daughter Melanie. When she first saw their 32-page publication, which is mailed to around 500 people and appears on their website , she was “suitably unimpressed. There was no local content, and I saw that it could be much more useful.”

She spotted a small advertisment for an editor. Despite thinking “Oh no, I shouldn’t be doing this – it’s going to take up too much time – I rang them.”

Towie was driven to help turn the magazine into a true information resource due to the fact that she had such a hard time finding information about having a child in Bangkok. “Thailand is not an information society,” she explains. “It’s driven largely by rumour, which medical practitioners can harness for their own benefit – for instance, it’s more convenient for them to give caesarian sections… My background is in journalism and information-gathering. I don’t let go! I wanted to examine the alternatives to the status quo.”

So Towie sprang into action. First, she got to work sourcing local stories. “Now we have over 90 per cent of copy locally generated.” Towie initiated a section in the magazine for working women, with stories on relevant issues such as childcare and breastfeeding.

Then she improved the magazine’s production methods. “They were still using a printer who required the magazine to be cut and pasted. Within two months I identified an alternative printer and with the agreement of the committee, we switched.”

The group’s decision to outsource production cut her hours down per issue to ten; adding a network of volunteer helpers to preselect and subedit content eventually reduced it to around five.

Towie’s first day in Thailand was an eventful one: she arrived on 23 February 1991, the final day of the most recent coup in Thailand. At the time she was a correspondent working for Australia’s Bulletin and she’s since also worked for Business Review Weekly and the Economist Group. She met her Thai husband, who works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 1994 and married him in 1997.

Towie began a new job as director of content at eThailand.com last month. The demands of the position mean that she’ll now hand the reins over to someone else: “but I still plan on keeping an eye on things.“ The parents of Bangkok can rest assured she won’t let standards slip.

They who wield the hammer

05.08.2000 (12:00 am) – Filed under: People ::

“She’s very good at art.”
“I think clients like her! She’s very patient when it comes to talking to clients.”
“But I don’t have good eyes like her!”
“Oh, but she has a good eye for jewellery.”

So two friends who work together enthusiastically point out each others’ good points.

Yaovanee Nirandara has a passion for all things philatelic and a growing interest in paintings; Punchalee Phenjati has a discerning eye when it comes to all kinds of jewellery. They’ve been friends since they were in kindergarten – but it was 234- year-old auction house Christie’s that brought them together professionally.

“I’d been a Christie’s client for more than ten years, so I had gotten to know the people at Christie’s very well,” says Yaovanee, an avid philatelist who judges international exhibitions. Her search for stamps led her to Christie’s offices in London, Geneva, Singapore and Hong Kong. “They wanted to start an office here, and they were looking for a representative for quite some time.”

It was the Financial Restructuring Authority (FRA) art auctions in June 1998 that moved things along for both Christie’s and the two friends.

“I spoke to Punchalee about the FRA auctions because we both like art and we like to promote Thai artists,” explains Yaovanee. “We saw the auctions as being a good opportunity to promote Thai artists and at the same time assist the government. So we asked Christie’s Singapore, the nearest office, to come in and assist with the FRA auctions.”

And how did the first Christie’s-managed auction in Thailand go?

“Very well,” says Punchalee.

“It was very good,” echoes Yaovanee. “One hundred per cent of the items on offer were sold, at about five times the estimated prices.” Approximately 60 million baht worth of goods were sold. After working with Yaovanee for the FRA auctions, Christie’s approached her to be a representative. “And Yaovanee asked if I would like to help her,” says Punchalee. “She said if she was going to do it, I would have to do it to! So I joined her as a consultant for jewellery.”

The new Christie’s office doors opened softly in December 1998, and the official opening was held on 28 April, 1999. The first auction was held later in the year, with the hammer wielded by a professional auctioneer from Geneva. Buyers from as far afield as Belgium and England came.

“About 92 per cent of books and manuscripts were sold. For paintings, about 84 per cent were sold,” says Punchalee. “Usually auctions average about 74 or 75 per cent.” The house’s second auction was held on July 30 at the Hyatt Erawan, with an auctioneer each from Australia and Hong Kong “Our clients include Thais and foreigners, museums, expats… everyone,” says Yaovanee.

The most expensive item sold to date has been a painting by Thai artist Tawee Nandakwang, which went for 2.5 million baht – not quite comparable to the Christie’s record of Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet, which sold for US$82.5 million in 1990, and remains to this day the most expensive item ever sold at auction – but respectable for such a young office, nevertheless.

A look at their catalogue books indicates that you don’t need to be incredibly rich to procure a numbered paddle board and have a bid: a first edition Travels in the Central Parts of Indochina (Siam), Cambodia and Laos by Henri M Mouhot was expected to fetch between Bt6,000 and 8,000, while 50 Eagle Bird Cigarette cards, each depicting a letter of the Thai alphabet were looking to sell for Bt3,000 to 5,000.

In Bangkok, just one auction per year is currently being held, while Singapore and Hong Kong hold two. “It takes about six months to prepare for one,” says Punchalee, so a typical day will vary depending on the time of year. “When we are doing the sourcing, we have to meet people, meet artists, visit museums.”

“After that, we have to take photographs of the items to be auctioned, and compile the catalogue,” adds Yaovanee. “We have clients [often they both sell and buy] from across Thailand, but they eventually come to us in Bangkok because they have to bring the painting or item here.”

Although Christie’s maintains a website with preview and auction schedules across the world, and some pictures of items, they don’t hold auctions over the Intertnet – yet. “Because items may not look the same as the original,” says Yaovanee. “People do like to come and see the goods. It’s very important to take a look, particularly for the more expensive pieces.”

As for misunderstandings in the auction room – you can’t really scratch your head and accidentally buy something but, Yaowanee says, occasionally a client has bid for the wrong lot. “Unfortunately, that’s their fault; not ours. They can’t do anything about it.” Except, perhaps, start collecting something new!

It was Yaovanee’s passion for philatelics that led her to represent an auction house: how did she get interested in the first place?

“I started collecting when I was very young and stemmed from my interest in history. When I would read about a certain period, I would want to learn more about it. But I only started collecting seriously when I started work – that was when I had money and I could afford to buy stamps!”

Her philatelic knowledge has led her around the world, judging and competing in places as far flung as Korea, Taiwan, Australia, the US and Luxemburg. She explains that the path a serious Thai philatelist must follow in order to become a judge is a long one: “You have to exhibit internationally to get to a particular level. Then you have to judge in Thailand for two years, and then you have to judge in Asia for another two years. Next you need to pass an exam – and then you’re an international judge.” Meaning you’ll be invited around the world to various exhibitions – with airfares, hotel costs and your time compensated for.

She tries to do her bit for the future of philatelics by promoting it among young people, and emphasises that stamp collecting is alive and kicking among the children of Thailand. “In nearly every school there’s a stamp club – collecting stamps is also an elective subject, up there with scouting and dancing. It’s a good way to learn about history, the routes of mailing and so on. ”

But these days Yaovanee is devoting more time to paintings than stamps – Christie’s no longer deals in the latter, she says. Although her academic background is in economics, and she holds an MBA, she is now busy studying all she can about painting.

“She has learned from experience,” says Punchalee. “She is a good artist herself. She paints. She can. I can’t! But my mother is a dressmaker, and likes beautiful things. That’s how I got to be interested in this. She’s very artistic. But I only got half of me from my mother!”

Punchalee’s academic background is in education. “But it’s really experience that matters,” says Yaovanee. “The more you look at things, the more you read. That’s what’s important.”

“I’m not good at art, at all,” continues Punchalee. “I take care of the jewellery part because in Thailand, jewellery is something that Thai women really like. It’s doing very well. We can’t hold auctions here yet, but we participate around the world, especially in Singapore and Hong Kong. We hold previews here for our clients and if they like the pieces they will give me a written bid, and I will bid for them in Singapore or Hong Kong, or wherever.”

What’s the force that drives a collector?

“Pleasure!” replies Punchalee without hesitation. “Actually I appreciate art as well, I just can’t collect it as I don’t have anywhere to hang it in my house!”

The second reason is financial. “It’s better than money in the bank,” Yaovanee emphasises. “It’s a good investment.”

The next big event on the Christie’s calander is a charity auction being held in honour of General Prem’s 80th birthday on August 19 at the Dusit Thani Hotel. “It will be the event of the year,” promises Yaovanee who will take the hammer herself and conduct the auction in Thai.

And the friendship of the two women remains firm as they steer themselves through the stormy seas of business. “Oh, we’re still the same,” says Punchalee. “I think we’re actually getting closer.”

Bangkok dining and drinking guide

01.08.2000 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Travel ::

Thais take their food very seriously. Combine this fact with Bangkok’s vibrant cosmopolitanism and you have a city that will consistently keep your taste buds singing. You might dine in a traditional Thai house serving the finest of Thai cuisine, or find yourself tucked away in a French restaurant able to compete with the best of Parisian kitchens. You can try the latest in Pacific Rim fusion food, or grab a serving of pasta that an Italian would be proud of. Or if it’s simply noodles at 3am you’re keen on, Bangkok’s streets will keep you sated.

Thailand’s cuisine has reportedly spread across the globe these past three decades at a speed unprecedented by any other nation’s. The reason is not difficult to fathom: it’s absolutely delicious. There are two types of Thai food: Royal Thai cuisine, and the “common” fare. The former is food traditionally served to royalty, and is prepared so that the food doesn’t need to be cut by the diner. It’s also garnished with exquisitely carved fruits and vegetables. Benjarong is one of several fine restaurants serving Royal Thai cuisine.

“Common” Thai food is just that: what Thais eat every day. Each of the four regions in Thailand has a distinct cuisine, and unless you’re dining in a regional restaurant, you’re likely to find a blend of them on most menus. It’s usual to mix your regions during the one meal: harmony is the goal of any Thai repast, meaning you should try striking a balance by ordering a dip served with vegetables, a soup, a curry and a spicy salad. Wanalee Earth Kitchen is one restaurant where the menu is divided by regions, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

In the fertile central region, the food is known for being hot, salty, sweet and sour. Dishes such as nam phrik (dips) and soups served with boiled rice are standard fare. In the dry northeastern region, sticky rice is the staple food, and hot, salty and sour dishes are common. Som tam (green papaya salad), gai yang (barbecued chicken) and laap (salads of meat and fresh herbs) are some of the more popular dishes. Much of the street food in Bangkok is from the northeast, due to the large number of vendors coming from this region. Food from the north tends to be mild or spicy, salty and sour, but not sweet. Sticky rice is also the staple here, and fermented sour pork sausages are a favorite – you’ll also see them being barbecued on the street. In the maritime south, fish rather than meat is eaten, and sour curries (without coconut milk) are the norm.

Good places to start your Thai culinary adventure include Baan Khanita , Lemon Grass, Harmonique and Cabbages and Condoms. Large hotels usually have excellent Thai restaurants—the stigma prevalent in the west of eating in hotel restaurants is certainly not existent here. Celadon, Thai on 4, basil, and Ruen Thai should get you started on the hotels.

If you’re shopping and you want a quick meal, you’ll be surprised by the quality and range of food served for very low prices in the food halls of malls. There’s usually a coupon system in place, where you purchase your coupons, buy your meals and return your leftover coupons afterwards. The Emporium food hall is particularly good, as are the Tops supermarket halls. And of course, there’s the street food. Point, smile and you’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised by what you get.

But if it’s international cuisine you’re hankering for, Bangkok will sate you all the same. From Indian to Greek, to Middle Eastern and Latin, name your cuisine and somewhere there’ll be a waiter ready with a menu for you to peruse. There are loads of well-regarded Chinese (Mei Jiang, Bai Yun) and Japanese (Benihana, Edogin) restaurants , while European restaurants are relatively new on the scene. Italian cuisine has positively boomed here recently, although oldies such as Angelini’s and Rossini’s continue to attract huge crowds. Several new French restaurants have opened to rave reviews, such as Le Café Siam and Auberge Dab. However Bangkok is still in the grip of a Latino craze which swept into town during 1999, making nouvelle Latino cuisine the latest and hippest development. Senor Pico Bar and Restaurant, The Salsa Club, El Nino Latin Heat Caféand Baila Bailaare just a few enjoying the craze.

British and Irish pubs serving up traditional sturdy fare are also making their impact felt. The Bull’s Head and Delaney’s Irish Pubare two old favorites, while The Dubliner Irish Puband The Londoner Brew Pubare two relative new kids on the block.

And then there are the truly “international” restaurants serving up often Asian and Italian-inspired dishes, but which refuse to be easily pigeon-holed: Eat Me, Greyhound Cafe, Café Bongo, Indigo, Homework and Zanzibar are just a few.

As for drinking, Bangkok’s pubs and bars are up there with the best, although it is worth noting that steep government taxes on wine push even basic table vino into the “expensive” bracket. At its very core, Bangkok is a beer and whiskey kind of town, meaning you can order a bottle of whiskey at many establishments which they’ll keep for you to finish off on your next visit. The mushrooming of world-class drinking establishments over the past decade or two, however, means that a full bar is now more likely to be the norm.

There are a number of micro-breweries (including The Londoner Brew Pub, Haus Hamburg , The Londoner Brew Pub and Brauhaus Bangkok)to keep ale lovers happy, and plenty of bars for spirit-sippers to relax in (ranging from the laid back Bangkok Bar and Cheap Charlies to the more upmarket The Barbican and Compass Rose.) Then there are the Thai pubs–with the almost ubiquitous Thai cover band playing popular Thai songs and, at some stage in the evening, Hotel California—such as Ad Makers and Saewana. Note that Thai pubs and bars serve delectable drinking food, making an evening of drinking and grazing through a trendy part of town a fine way to pass the time. Try the bars around Phra Arthit Road or Narathiwat Soi 15 for such an evening. Lounge bars could be the next big thing, with About Café/Studio and Q Bar opening the race.

Coffee is enjoying a boom in Bangkok, and although Starbucks may now be everywhere, there are other chains springing up, such as Au Bon Pain and Coffee World, as well as one-off coffee and tea shops offering refuge and rejuvenation. Kuppa, The China Journal and Nim’s Tea House are just a few of the latter.

While this guide should point you in the right direction, it can’t possibly do justice to the literally hundreds of restaurants that dot the city. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous: it is difficult to find a bad meal in the City of Angels. With a little exploration and just a touch of bravery, it’s highly likely that food will become one of your favorite memories of your trip here.

Bangkok district guide

01.08.2000 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Travel ::

To put it simply, Bangkok can seem like a nightmare to the uninitiated. Sprawling expressways and overpasses, the huge new Sky Train and crowded streets full of vendors give the city a distinct Blade Runneresque feel. To confuse matters further, there’s no true ‘centre’ to the city, with various districts famed for different reasons being dotted right across town. On the positive side, the Sky Train has made it much easier to get around, and taxis, tuk-tuks, buses and motorcycle taxis are plentiful. Get your bearings by reading the following and it won’t take long for you to be seduced by the glorious chaos and charm of the City of Angels.

The most heavily touristed area – at least during the day – is Ko Rattanakosin (Rattanakosin Island), Bangkok’s old city lying on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya river. Here you’ll find fantastic historical architecture such as the glittering Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, as well as Wat Po, Wat Mahathat, the Golden Mount and Wat Suthat. The city’s founding pillar, Lak Muang, is found in this district, while cultural highlights include the National Museum, National Theatre and National Gallery. If you’re keen on seeing something completely out of the ordinary, pop across the river to the Museum of the Department of Forensic Medicine. Sanam Luang is about the only green spot on the ‘island’ – which has never truly been an island but would have seemed like one during the old city’s heyday, when many of the canals linking the area to the river had yet to be filled in.

Bangkok was once referred to as “The Venice of The East”, and today its klongs, or canals, are concentrated in Thonburi, an area lying to the west of the Chao Phraya river. You can take a klong tour, and most will stop at Wat Arun and the museum of theRoyal Barges. Buses heading south from Bangkok leave from Sai Tai bus terminal, located here.

Backpackers head to the Banglamphu and Thewet districts. Tucked away behind the Democracy Monument, there’s some good trinket shopping to be done on Khao San Road, a strip lined with guesthouses and cheap restaurants, none of which stand out for their ambience or cuisine. Some great restaurants and bars come to life at night along Phra Arthit Road, however, a mere stone’s throw away. Following the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya, this area is popular with students from nearby Thammasat and Silpakorn universities, and has a laid- back, cosmopolitan feel.

The Dusit district also offers plenty of tourist attractions. Vimanmek Palace, Wat Benchamabophit, Suan Pakkard Palace and Dusit Zoo are all found here. There’s not much in the way of hotels or restaurants, but a small arty area popular with local students has sprung up on Rachawithee Soi 34.

Northern Bangkok’s highlight for tourists is Chatuchak Weekend Market, best reached by catching the Skytrain. Mor Chit bus terminal is located at the same stop – handy to know if you want to catch an interprovincial bus heading north or northeast. Don Muang, Bangkok’s international airport, is about 15 km further north still.

Heading back south, the area around the Victory Monument features a variety of bars, including Saxophone Pub and Restaurant. This is also a major transport hub, with plenty of buses – and the Skytrain – passing through.

Young Thais and keen shoppers head to the area around Siam Square, a shoppers’ paradise – unless you’re a tall Western woman looking for off-the-rack clothes or shoes. Otherwise, there’s plenty to be found in malls such as Siam Discovery, Siam Center, Centerpoint (the most popular teenage hangout), Mah Bun Krong and the World Trade Center. A walk away from the latter you’ll find Panthip Plaza, also known as heaven for computer geeks. The non-shopper can retreat to the sanctuary of Jim Thompson’s House and Museum. There’s a cluster of hotels in this area, including Siam Intercontinental, Le Royal Meridien and the Novotel Siam Square. Popular restaurants including Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Café can also be found here.

Heading east along Ploenchit and Sukhumvit Roads, there’s plenty of further shopping to be had, both at street stalls, which spring up around the beginning of Sukhumvit and stretch to Soi Asoke, and department stores such as Central Chidlom and The Emporium, plus a huge array of dining options. Restaurants along this stretch include Auberge Dab, Baan Khanita, Lemon Grass, Cabbages and Condoms and Rossini’s. The Ekamai, the Eastern bus terminal, is located on Soi Ekamai (63), very close to the Science Center for Education. Sukhumvit Road also features a large selection of hotels, including the Bangkok JW Marriot, Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit and Delta Grand Pacific.

The Sathorn/Silom area is probably the closest Bangkok comes to having a financial district (although the Stock Exchange of Thailand is located some distance away on Ratchadaphisek Road). The area features a number of embassies and hotels, such as the Westin Banyan Tree, the Sukhothai, and the Dusit Thani. Silom Rd offers further shopping opportunities, including the Patpong nightmarket. Sri Maha Uma Devi temple is also located in this district. There’s plenty to choose from in this area when it comes to restaurants, particularly around Convent Rd. Head to nearby Lumphini Park for a break in a rare patch of green.

If you head west along Sathorn or Silom you’ll come to Charoen Krung (or ‘New’) Rd and the Chao Phraya again. A tram ran along this road earlier in the century, but these days hardly anything does – the traffic’s just so thick! This is another popular hotel area, with plush hotels overlooking the river including The Oriental, The Peninsula, the Shangri La, the Royal Orchid Sheraton and the Marriott Royal Garden Riverside. Dine at one of their restaurants or any of the many that dot their way along the majestic river such as Yok Yor Marina and Restaurant, or take a sunset cruise. River City Shopping Complex sells a huge array of antiques and is worth browsing through.

Further north along the river lie hectic Chinatown and Pahurat, an Indian district. Here you’ll find Wat Traimit, but the area is better known overall for its shopping. Yaowarat Rd has loads of gold shops, while Sampeng Lane has everything from hair accessories to shoes, all at bargain basement prices. Further north still there’s Pak Klong Talaart, with its colourful fresh flowers.

There are also a number of attractions to be found in the outlying areas of Bangkok and adjacent provinces, including King Rama IX Royal Park, Nonthaburi, the Ancient City, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and Ayutthaya, the latter of which usually incorporates a visit to Bang-Pa In Summer Palace.

A Star Called Henry

01.08.2000 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Books ::

By Roddy Doyle

This punch of a novel traces the first twenty years of Henry Smart, born into the slums of Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century. The young Smart competes with his dead younger brother Henry for the attention of his spirit-broken mother, while his father is out being bouncer and occasional hitman for a local business heavy. Henry turns to the streets for solace, where he is coopted into joining what will become the IRA. Although Henry doesn’t give a toss about Ireland and views the struggle along class lines, by the end of several years hard fighting for the likes of Michael Collins, he realises he has been nothing more than an ‘ijeet’ helping the rise of an Irish class of businessmen. The dialogue is of Doyle’s usual brilliant standard, and the characters he paints, including Miss O’Shea, the wife of Henry who is more determined to knock off peelers than he is, are wonderfully colourful. Doyle can evoke magic as he also writes of death and mayhem, making this novel a compelling read.

Poetry in motion

01.08.2000 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Lifestyle ::

A lover’s shirt, motorcycle taxi drivers, an extracted tapeworm, the letters ‘SP’, a hangover, the cremation of a friend. Sweaty palms, lubricated throats, mellifluous voices, nervous coughs and laughs.

We’re at the latest instalment of Bangkok Poetry, an initiative started by American Wesley Hsu last September and gathering momentum as word of its existence spreads. Every six weeks or so, the microphone at About Café/About Studio is switched on, the lounges fill with punters keen to read or listen in the glow of the café’s neon green, and Wesley takes the lead, breaking the ice by delivering his own polished reading for the evening.

How did Bangkok come to be blessed with such an event? “Prior to moving here last March I’d been a pretty regular fan of good spoken-word performance and ‘poetry slams’ in Los Angeles, Austin, and Chicago,” he says. After discovering there were no such regular readings happening in Bangkok, he decided to set something up himself.

The first reading was not auspicious. “Myself included, there were four poets. The microphone didn’t work, everyone showed up late, the acoustics were terrible. But it happened, which was something.”

The rules are simple and encouraging. “Any language, any length, any style,” Wesley says. “If people want to read prose that’s okay too, or use props or whatever. The only thing I ask is that people read original material only. I want this to be a celebration of writing as much as performance.”

Tonight the nine readings are all in English. There’s a mixture of men from the English-speaking world, and one Thai writer, Wipas Srithong, who has chosen to read one of his English poems. But there are no female poets, and Wesley despairs that the balance has consistently swung this way since the readings began.

Each reading has its own theme: tonight it’s movement. “It’s not intended to restrict the poets in any way, really – they can interpret it however they choose,” Wesley emphasises. “Mosly it’s to help anyone who can’t think of anything to write about.”

Indeed the poems tonight are loosely based on the word, with the inevitable twist of movement being a bowel-related thing coming with a delightfully detailed account of a tapeworm extraction. As the other poets deliver their words there are moments of pathos, beauty, hilarity and, inevitably perhaps, incomprehension. But what’s most enjoyable is that the entertainment is being provided by the people in the audience – and it’s not karaoke.

There’s a good sized audience sipping herbal teas and guzzling beers while they listen, but it’s been a struggle to get the numbers up. “The performance art scene is quite small here even among local Thai artists, much less farangs,” Wesley says. “Competing with the Bangkok lifestyle is probably the biggest challenge–people don’t typically have the attention span to listen to poetry, much less get off their duffs and write it.”

Once the scheduled readings are completed, Wesley encourages anyone who’s written a poem during the evening to get up and read it. He’s handed out a sheet explaining how to write a passable four-line poem. There are a couple of takers; there are encores. Wesley is so keen to encourage new poets to take to the stand he leaves the mike turned on for an hour just in case someone changes their mind and decides after all to read that sonnet slipped surreptitiouly into their back pocket.

Meanwhile, the dj has hit the turntables and the crowd is mingling. Everyone’s keen on giving their assessment of the evening – in fact, that’s really what the second half of the evening’s about.

“It was definitely interesting,” says one Thai woman. “I’ll come again. I didn’t understand all of it though, some of the more emotional stuff.” Well, even if English is your first language…

Meanwhile, Wesley is looking further down the track. “Sometimes I’ll let myself dream a bit,” says Wesley. “And anticipate the day when we’ll have a backup band, a packed house, full lights and sound board, and turn the whole thing into a rollicking slam like they hold in the Green Mill in Chicago.”

It may not happen in the next few months, but this is an event that could capture the hearts and minds of Bangok’s intelligentsia as they come to understand that “poetry is a way of taking life by the throat” [Robert Frost]. Or at least an excuse for telling someone you like their rhyming couplet, perhaps.

For further information, contact Wesley Hsu at bangkokpoetry@yahoo.com

Marketing strategies: Where do you fit in?

01.08.2000 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Finance ::

You could almost be forgiven for thinking the marketing world has gone mad. Motorola, the BTS Skytrain and Fly Now throwing a huge fashion show together? Nokia and Christian Dior launching their latest phones and fashions in one big fashion extravaganza? Frito Lay and Nokia joining together for a promotion that?s seen people buying boxes rather than packets of Doritos, which they?ve literally dragged out of shops?

But no, madness is not the explanation for these seemingly disparate companies working together on eye-catching marketing strategies. Rather, good old-fashioned competition for the consumer?s attention is driving marketing gurus to come up with ever more attention-grabbing events and promotions to attract today?s time-constrained big spenders.

?Motorola is always on the look-out for new and innovative ways to communicate to its targeted consumers,? confirms Motorola?s regional marketing manager Suphakit Vuntanadit.

?We try to launch our products by doing something completely different from the others,? says Una Tan, assistant marketing manager for Nokia in Thailand.

Yes, it?s a congested, hectic world saturated with information out there, and who better to know this ? and be in a position to gain a leg-up – than companies operating on the very edge of technology and communications, such as Motorola and Nokia? Indeed, based ondata gathered recently by ACNielsen from over 800 respondents in Bangkok, more than 11% said that they intend to buy a mobile phone in the coming year. The competition to snare these consumers is going to be tough.

So it?s not really a big surprise that telecommunications companies are the ones pushing offbeat, innovative marketing strategies. But what exactly has been going on in the minds of the marketing gurus behind these new strategies?

Arguably, the most innovative partnering to date has been Motorola, Flynow and the BTS Skytrain. Billed as the largest fashion event ever launched in the Kingdom, the May 26 WW/OW (acronym for Web Without Wires) show featured 80 models wearing clothes by Flynow designer Chamnan Pakdeesuk and carrying today’s must-have accessory, the mix and match mobile. The models travelled from the Dusit Thani Hotel to the Saladaeng BTS station, to Siam Square, and then to the Emporium.

The show was the first time Chamnan has unveiled a collection in Bangkok, as against his usual practice of showing his collections in London, Rome or Paris. And Motorola debuted their latest portfolio of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)- enabled mobile phones (which allow users to access the Internet).

?The engagement of 80 models by Motorola in conjunction with Flynow to parade from the Dusit Thani Hotel to the The Emporium was truly exceptional,? says Somchai Songwatana, managing director of CRC Creation Plc., the owner of the Flynow brand. Furthermore, Somchai says the response from the press was quite overwhelming. ?Normally when we do a fashion show here we get around 50 to 100 members of the press. For this show, there were between 450 and 500 members of the press in attendance.?

But Thailand, with a subscriber base of over 2.5 million users, is a key market in Asia for US-based Motorola, so its marketing ambitions for the information-fatigued consumers in the Kingdom are more serious than a one-off fashion show. In fact, its targetted campaigns have been rolling out since the end of last year, and have involved a number of ?firsts?.

Chris Khoo, Executive Director of Bangkok Public Relations, which count Motorola among its clients, emphasises that Motorola is now targetting particular groups, based on their core needs and lifestyles. ?Ten years ago, marketing was all about reaching the masses. But today, it?s much more targetted,? Chris says. ?From December 1999, Motorola departed from the mass marketing approach and decided to focus on four distinct groups of mobile phone users: the V. (pronounced Vee Dot), the Timeport, the Geek and the Talkabout groups.? Each are distinguished by what they want from their mobile phone.

And part of this approach involves working with strategic partners. From March, the company was involved in a strategic campaign with Bangkok?s 80 EGV cinemas. This involved the filming of a ?public educational commercial? entitled Happy Birthday, on the etiquette of using mobile phones and pagers at cinemas and public places. The commercial featured a funeral being interrupted by the shrill ring of a mobile phone, answered by a mourner who hears a ?Happy birthday to you?? song audible among the none-too-pleased crowd.

EGV Cinema?s marketing manager Itthiphol Lokuparaphol says the commercial was gauged as being a success. ?Most of the viewers liked the public reminder because they found it humorous and effective in conveying the message,? he confirms. The advertisement is now being exported around the region.

Nokia is another company paying ultra-serious attention to its marketing attacks. They launched their Nokia 8210 and 8850 series models in February along with Christian Dior?s Spring/Summer 2000 collection at former nightclub the Palace, now a production studio. ?We came up with this creative idea and went to speak with Christian Dior. They were like wow! This is quite interesting. Let?s see what we can work out together,? says Yuwana Limwatanakul, Nokia?s marketing manager in Thailand. ?It was the first time that such a technology-product has been tied up with the fashion industry in Thailand. So we really wanted a big bang,?

And indeed it was. ?We had an overwhelming response from the press,? says Yuwana. ?Instead of having a catwalk in the centre of the room, the audience formed the centre, and the catwalk skirted around them. We had a specialised team work on the event after we shared our brief with Christian Dior, to make sure our ideas matched.?

Christian Dior, Yuwana says, were keen to participate because they wanted to update their image in the minds of Thai consumers, and launching with Nokia would help them achieve that objective.

Yumi Ingkhavat, marketing manager from Christian Dior, explains that the two companies? strategies fit nicely with each other. ?Technology is now like fashion wher e it needs to be updated constantly. For instance, mobile phones have transformed to become more than a communication device. Christian Dior and Nokia therefore appreciate each other?s styles, which need to be in tune with today?s lifestyle and business needs.?

Una Tan emphasises that Nokia was the first to establish this new ?lifestyles? category in the fashion world. ?We were the first ones to do this. Normally when you would talk about a mobile phone, nobody would think fashion. But now, the two have become an item,? she says.

And, as with Motorola, Nokia?s marketing extends and is sustained far beyond these big-bang attention grabbing events. ?This launch is not the first time Nokia has worked with a partner. We?ve had many other promotions with restaurants such as S, airlines, credit card companies and so on. Nokia may have a global idea, but we have to localise it and decide whether its right for our market. And this may involve using partners.?

Frito Lay is one such recently formed partnership, where consumers who buy Doritos chips have a chance to instantly win a Nokia 8210. ?They have a similar target group for their product as Nokia does for its 8210 model,? says Yuwana. ?So we thought we could share activities to try and meet our target. It?s about us each using our strengths together to improve our promotional activities.?

More generally, Yuwana agrees that these sorts of partnerships will become more common across industries. ?It can be different to distinguish products from each other in the market. To follow consumer trends and needs, in my opinion more and more tie-ups will happen in the future.?

So if you?re a consumer, rest assured that there are people hard at work fitting you into a category they can target with their latest campaigns ? nothing new about that, except that now companies on the edge are joining forces, making their campaigns both more innovative and persuasive. Watch your wallet!

And if you have something to sell: the news from the marketing world is that you?ve got to put your ear to the ground and find someone else who wants to sell to the same bunch of people. Two heads have always been better than one, after all.