Monsoon season

They say Thailand has three seasons: hot, hotter, and hot and rainy. The third seems to have arrived early this year, just in time for my friend Jen's visit from Atlanta. I met up with her after classes for an afternoon neither of us will soon forget. It began with a visit to a beautiful old Hindu temple and then across the street to one of my favorite art galleries, Kathmandu. Here's Jen checking out some art in the gorgeous upstairs section:

Jen's guidebook led us on a wild goose chase for an Indian restaurant. Before we could find it, the sky opened up for a downpour that renders an umbrella useless. We ducked for cover on one of the scary green buses (known for barely slowing to a full stop). Rode that for a while, missed a good stop, and finally got off and went inside an ice cream shop. The owners were in a state about something and upon closer inspection, we quickly exited - water was leaking on their karaoke machine, causing it to smoke. We walked on and finally made it to a skytrain station. The night ended with our soggy selves over plates of mango and sticky rice. Read more on Jen’s always-interesting, often hunger-inducing blog featuring tales of her many travel and culinary adventures. This girl loves food like I do!


Blasted Songkran

Daniel watching the colors of Thailand flash by on the way to Kanchanaburi

If I hadn’t written off Songkran by the time it ended in Bangkok (which I had), I'm certainly over it now. The holiday ended on a Tuesday in Bangkok, but who knew that the folks in Kanchanaburi were celebrating it Wednesday (the day we arrived) and Thursday? Well, lots of people. But not me. And not the friend I traveled with. When our sawngthaew, which was to take us from bus stop to guesthouse, stopped at the edge of the madness because it couldn’t go any further, Daniel's eyes widened in disbelief. “Can’t it just be over?” he wailed. “It’s like being stuck in a movie and they keep making horrible sequels.” We booked a room at the only guesthouse we could get to, but by the next day the mayhem had spread so that we were in the middle of it. There was no way out but through it, so we arrived at the River Kwai Bridge wet, plastered (not the drunk kind, but the literal kind) and tired of being touched by strangers. The streets finally quieted around eight that night (with the help of police) and we could really begin to enjoy this scenic river town.

A citrus and mint salad with a delectable dessert made of black beans and coconut.

Stairs that lead to a bat cave that leads to a floating nun.


Happy Thai New Year

Or Sawatdee Bee Mai Thai. A friend and I joined droves of others on Khao San road Saturday night, the eve of Sangkran. We had just stepped out of a taxi when a passerby initiated me by cupping my face with her plaster-covered hands. “Happy new year!” Minutes later we were lost in the throng, at the mercy of better-armed revelers with their buckets of water, spray guns and bowls of plaster. After a while of strangers smearing our faces with the white concoction, we escaped down a side street and bought a banana crepe and mango with sticky rice and coconut milk, a popular Thai dessert that will make you fall in love with this country. Oh, how I love all the street food. An article in the Bangkok Post today reported that sidewalk vendors on Khao San road could be losing millions of baht because their food is too soaked to sell. Songkran was not always such a chaotic spectacle. Even just a decade ago, so I hear, it was still limited to the gentle sprinkling of water on others to symbolically wash away the bad. Now it’s almost impossible to not participate unless you hermit yourself away for a few days. Plaster has been added to the hysteria because monks use it to mark blessings.

So my opinion of Songkran now that I’ve experienced it? One day is a blast, but half a week is overkill. I met a friend for a movie yesterday. I arrived dry only because I paid for a cab door-to-door and hid behind a wall when I saw people with arsenal. He chanced the skytrain and sat in wet(tish) clothes picking at dried plaster. This morning I thought it was safe to go out for breakfast because the neighborhood was eerily quiet, but from behind a tree appeared a sweet-looking girl smiling broadly as she poured a bucketful of ice water down my shirt. My favorite coffee stand owner, Pii Tom, has poured some fine cups of java only to have them instantly diluted. But in the typical easy Thai way, he just laughs and picks up his own gun. Which is really about all you can do. Which is why in this afternoon's sweltering heat, I borrowed his gun and got some good laughs at my unsuspecting victims--and was thankful when a group of kids returned the favor.


After thought: Sorry for not giving you more pictures. I brought my pocket camera in a plastic bag, but was too afraid to take it out around all the action. You can view more on Google images if you're curious.


Hurry up and wait

So I'm smack in the middle of my vacation and enjoying all this free time. I've been bopping around Bangkok, scouting out places I haven't been before, like Little Arabia (for Middle Eastern food and culture) and Pantip Plaza (for pirated software and super cheap techie stuff). I'll probably take a couple of overnight trips to places near Bangkok. It's too hot to do much pleasurable traveling around Southeast Asia, but that's okay. There are plenty of sights to see around here, and for the three days of Songkran (Thai New Year, also celebrated in Laos and Cambodia), most people hole up in their dry, air-conditioned apartments with a stockpile of DVDs and food anyway. You see, Songkran is like cilantro. People either love it or hate it. For three whole days (a week in some parts of the country) it's one big water fest outside. People rebel against the hottest time of the year with hoses and buckets of water. You can't go outside without getting completely drenched. As I said, people either love it or hate it (You could say most Thais love it and most foreigners hate it, but I've talked to passionate exceptions on both sides). I have a feeling I'll be more in the "hate" camp, but to see for myself, I'll venture to Khao San Road, the prime spot for acquiring swimmers ear in Bangkok, one day during the festival.

Now, though, let me hop back to last weekend and my three days on the set of Streetfighter. I was there Friday as an extra and Saturday and Sunday as "American dialogue instructor." I had a great time, met some really interesting people, and came away with a true understanding of the phrase "hurry up and wait." Friday morning, I showed up at 5:30 to wait for breakfast at six. Then it was on to costumes and makeup. About sixty of us were there to play the crowd at a martial arts show. We were all dressed to the nines by ten, and then we waited. Waited in our evening attire, caked-on makeup, and lacquered hair. I believe it was two before we were ever filmed. When not sitting on the set with my "husband and child" (both Russian), I mostly hung out with a woman in her fifties who has traveled all over the world. Her name is Lela and she knew Eric Clapton way back when. The song is not about her, but he did borrow her name and change the spelling. Just think, so many girls today are named Layla because this woman's parents once lived in the African village. Sometime soon I'll go rent a room in her guest home on the beach, about two hours from Bangkok.

Saturday and Sunday were more relaxed. Although I had to beat the sun there, my job was simply to be available in case my student wanted to practice her lines and to stand by during her scenes to make sure she said them correctly. Due to an argument among powers that be over set furniture, they never got to her scenes on Saturday so we spent a lot of time napping and reading in the trailer. She had a short scene Sunday morning and the next one wasn't until about nine that evening. That was her biggest scene, her death bed scene. It was so interesting to witness the process and all the reasons for another take (someone's phone, pesky Bangkok traffic, bad timing, etc). I got the biggest thrill when I suggested two changes to the director (unrelated to accent) and he agreed and implemented them. At the last minute, my student received some new lines, which were really hard for her to say. She eventually got it, but I'm holding my breath until the movie releases because they filmed so many takes, I'm worried they'll use one of her faulty lines (so to speak). I was extremely proud of her, though, and we were both on a squealing high during the van ride back to our apartments around midnight. Definitely not something you get to do every day.


As the egg sits there...

Yesterday was cause for celebration. It was my first day off after a 13-day stretch of work (more on that next time) and the beginning of a two-week vacation. A group of us kicked off the evening at an art walk, which occupied several spaces of a theatre building. Once again, Bangkok didn't disappoint and proved how wonderfully weird it can be. One exhibit featured two women and three men dressed in white, drinking coke and munching on popcorn while striking various poses of relaxation. Instead of watching a movie, though, they were all staring at a lone brown egg. They occasionally changed positions, but never shifted their eyes from the object of focus. We tossed around interpretations of this living display and considered that we, the audience, were actually the art. How long will people stand around watching people watching an egg? Are we being filmed? But alas, we bored of this and moved on to the next live—and much livelier—performance. A man only in the legal sense sporting a slinky hour-glass-hugging dress and curious war paint entertained a packed cafe with spastic dance movements. This treat was followed by another treat when we moved on to a bar Sarah had heard about and wanted to try. The downstairs was packed tight so we followed flashlights up four dark flights of stairs that surely would have been condemned in the States (one flight had no rail on the side and should one imbibe a little too much and step off, he'd have quite a long fall). The effort was worth it, though, when we emerged from the building on top of the roof to find a quaint little scene: a thatch bar, strings of lights illuminating our table, and a smiling bartender. It was so peaceful up there, just the seven of us above all the commotion below. I'm cherishing all these last nights with Sarah, who's moving back to the States in just a couple of short weeks. No doubt you'll hear more from me on that subject, but I'm trying not to get depressed and sentimental until I can't avoid it any longer. She's just one of those lovable people who leave behind a void when they move on. Though I'm sure no one's feeling this more than her sweet boyfriend who must stay here in Thailand.