One Night Month in Bangkok

In November 2005, Roger heads to fabled Bangkok for a month of training. Here are some pictures.

Bangkok is the jewel of Southeast Asia. With 12 million people, it has about one fifth of Thailand's total population. It's a busy, urban place. My place in Bangkok was the Kongboonma Building on Silom Road. That is where Elite Training was housed, and I was taking a month-long CELTA ESL training course from them. My other place was the Manohra Hotel. This appeared to be in the "Indian" part of Bangkok. It was a long walk from the school -- sometimes I walked, and sometimes I took a taxi.

Taxi-taking was a learned skill in Bangkok. The first time I went from the Manorah to Elite Training it cost me 200 Baht (40 Baht to the dollar, about $5.) After I learned how to work the system it cost me 40 Baht. Learning the system in this case meant walking a half block to a one way street going the right way, and making sure the taxi meter was running and using the price it showed, not negotiating a price before taking the ride.

The other thing I had to learn was how to pronounce "Manorah" so that a Thai taxi driver would understand. Instead of slowly saying "MAN-nor-ah", I learned to quickly say "man-o-LA", which usually got me to the right place... but once I ended up at the Mandarin Hotel.


I arrived in Bangkok the beginning of November. This was supposed to be the end of rainy season, but this year rainy season ran two weeks into November before slowly petering out.
Not only does it rain a lot in rainy season, and rain hard! It's humid! This is a typical Bangkok street on Sunday morning, and the water is coming from rain runoff and air conditioners I was constantly dodging puddles and drips during rainy season... and rain! I got soaked more than once.
Yes, seriously rainy. That's rain outside, and student teachers from my CELTA class inside.
The training class that day was delayed that day for rain. When it rains like this, some streets flood, so the students would get to class late.
"Delayed by rain" is part of Bangkok city life.
I saw this on a side street between my hotel and the school, and it looked familiar.

This is a "lucky tree", and the decorations on it are strikingly similar to the decorations on lucky trees in Korea -- colorful cloth strips, little buddhas. What is missing from this lucky tree are piles of stones, but since Bangkok is built on a mostly-mud river delta, that's not too surprising.
I don't know why he's here, but this is a little "space invader" -- from the video game in the 1970's.
I saw him on a wall in Bangkok my first day.
This part of Bangkok had some bronze foundry shops displaying some really fantastic bronze statues -- lions, eagles and a Playboy Bunny! This is right next to the school's building.

The training course work was intense, so I didn't get out much except on weekends. The first couple weekends I walked from my hotel to the river, and there I picked up the river ferry and took it to the Grand Palace.

This is the "Mississippi" of Thailand, the Chao Phraya river; Bangkok plays the part of New Orleans.

This is a tug pulling a fully loaded barge up river.
Many kinds of boats ply the river. This was an odd one, even by Thailand standards.
This kind of boat was very common. That's a big engine sporting the propeller on a long shaft. The driver moves the engine, which moves the propeller -- very maneuverable in shallow waters.
This is what I rode in: an express ferry boat. Cost for the ride, about five cents, US.
The Rama [x] Bridge. All the modern kings of Thailand are named Rama, and they have a lot of stuff in Bangkok named after them. The current one is Rama IX.
This bridge is neat looking. It's a suspension bridge, but instead of suspending from both sides, there is only one tower, and all the suspension is from one side. This was done because the other side was too close to the Grand Palace, and that's one of those historic places that you don't build tall buildings near.

The ferry ride on the river was fun. The breeze was refreshing, and there was plenty to watch as we sailed up and down the river. This river, like the Mississippi, has levees. Unlike the Mississippi, the levees are about four feet high, not twenty or thirty. The low levees mean that there is still plenty of jungle and undeveloped flood plain upriver of Bangkok to absorb the rainy season floodwaters.



In Korea these are called the Deva Kings, and there are always four. They protect Buddhist temples from evildoers.
Here in Thailand things are more eclectic -- there are many guards at the temples, not just four.
Some buildings and gardens in the Grand Temple.
There's a huge Reclining Buddha in the temple, but he's in a building only a little bigger than he is... not photogenic at all.
These surrounding gardens, on the other hand, were.
There are lots of Europeans in Bangkok, mostly from the British Isles. The story of the King and I reflected part of an ongoing heritage link between Thailand and the UK.
This lady helped me shoot a couple of pictures. It's rainy season, and, like me, she decided that living with getting wet was easier than carrying around umbrellas and other wet-avoiding paraphernalia.
An example of some of the mosaic work at the temple.
These ladies helped me find the ferry on my first foray. One was from Switzerland and the other from Germany.
Behind them is a typical docking area for the ferry. The ferries don't stay docked more than a few seconds -- just long enough for people to jump on and off.

There is plenty of water absorbing going on, but the second time I went to the river it was flooded to about two feet up the four foot levee -- the extra long rainy season was finally affecting the river. The ferry docks were still working OK, but the approach to them was under about three inches of water, so the locals had put wooden pallets down for us to walk on. Also, in some places the levees were leaking, there were puddles and pumps at many stops.

The second ferryboat journey

The river was flooded the second time I went to it. Those are wood pallets to keep passengers from walking through about three inches of water.
The Chao Phraya river is a busy place. Here are boats on the river and a temple beside it.
The flooding also brought out lots and lots of carp-like fish. Throw a little bread on the water, and it looked like Lake Pymatuming in northeast Ohio.
There were lots of temple roofs to see from the river.
Another roof.

After my second ferry boat journey, I went to Siam Center. Siam Center is a large and modern retail complex in Bangkok. Part of the center is the New Discovery shoppiong mall. Once inside it looks like a typical shopping mall in America, complete with a cineplex. I was there to see Harry Potter.

As in Korea, the movies are shown with the American sound track, but you know you're in a Thai theater, and not an American one, because the pre-movie commercials are in Thai (watching these is another way to learn about local culture), and because everyone stands when the national anthem is played before the start of the movie.

Thailand has a consitutional monarchy, like the UK. Unlike the UK, the monarch is both high-profile and highly revered in Thailand. The King and Queen's portraits hang in most public buildings, you see them a lot on local news, and it's considered very poor taste to badmouth the royal family.


Another way to know you're in Thailand is to see "building shrines." These shrines serve as homes for the land spirits displaced by a building. This is the shrine for the Kongboonma building where Elite Training is located.
A sunny day view of the same shrine. These shrines are usually well kept up.
The entrance to the Manorah Hotel, and it's shrine.
This is no shrine, but a full-fledged Hindu Temple. It's on the street between the school and the hotel.
Three ladies who asked me some questions for a marketing survey they were doing.


The Case of the Haunted House Shrine

by Roger Bourke White Jr., November 2005

(My first effort to write a story based on Thai culture. I wrote this for my classes.)

Tee and Porn had a nice house. They also had a nice shrine for their house, and they were diligent about keeping the shrine clean, tidy and attractive.

But one day Tee noticed that there was food left out from the night before, and the next day Porn lost her ring. Clearly the house spirit was back in the house, not in the shrine.

They called on a respected monk and asked him for advice. The monk came to the house and prayed for two days. When he was finished he told Tee and Porn, "The house spirit won't stay in the shrine because it is haunted. Last week a cat caught a mother mouse in the shrine and killed it. The mouse spirit has been haunting the shrine and the house spirit has moved out."

"What can we do?" asked Tee.

"You must think of a way to keep the mouse ghost out of the shrine." said the monk, and he returned to his temple.

Tee and Porn thought and thought.

Then Porn said, "Ah Ha! I have an idea."

She got a cat image and put it in the shrine. It worked! The cat image frightened away the mouse ghost, and the house spirit went back into the shrine.

-- The End --

Those are the pictures and stories I have about Bangkok.