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Day 5: Thailand

Cabaret, Korean Make-Up, Japanese Buffet and Safety

rain 34 °C


It seems that, in general, comfort and fun are prioritised higher than safety. This seems to be the case when discussing and observing the choice to rarely wear a seatbelt, helmets, protective gear and riding in the back of a vehicle! Personally I have found this decision to take quite some getting used to. I am making a conscious effort to wear a seatbelt whenever possible, but, in line with Thai priorities, they are frequently unavailable. For example, in my host family's car, one of the back seats has had its seatbelt clip replaced with a DRINK BOTTLE HOLDER! Fun and convenience over safety? Is popular culture supporting the notion that everything needs to be fun and that safety should take the 'back seat'? Despite the lower safety standards that I've noticed, within the Nonthaburi suburbs there is an abundance of speed bumps, which keeps the traffic from driving above safe speeds in these areas.


Continuing Thai hospitality, today Kao's mother gave me a necklace. This gift surprised me, as I'd never expect someone to give me a gift when staying in their home...in fact, I'd expect it to be the other way around!

Central/Downtown Bangkok

Today's festivities included a visit to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center, getting my make-up and curls done in a Korean style and my continued failure to find a leather case for my camera. The Bangkok Art and Cultural Center is best described by photographs, though I will say that I much preferred the art in the section that His Majesty the King of Thailand had chosen, than the art I have seen in exhibitions in Australia. I think the style of art that I prefer must be more popular in Thailand, as that entire exhibition had absolutely amazing pieces of art. The interactive nature of the other exhibitions within the center appear to be influenced by the global trend for artwork to move away from the traditional and to instead encompass interactive modes. It was interesting to see the choices made by the artists in creating their artwork, as I found it difficult in the interactive sections to note the specific popular cultures that would have influenced each. I suspect that this is due to a lack of knowledge of the very specific influences, rather than a lack of influences. Contrarily, in the section chosen by the King, the vast majority contained images of the King himself. This shows that Thai popular culture and art is still thoroughly interested in the monarchy and the King's role within contemporary Thai society.

In Paragon Shopping Center in central Bangkok, I had the opportunity to have my make-up done by the Korean brand 'Skin Food'. This experience showed the way that popular culture has shaped the view of beauty in Korea and throughout Asia to preference pale skin and large eyes. Following this experience, I had my hair curled at a nearby hair salon. I noticed quite a difference between hair curling in Australia and in Thailand. It seems, based on how they did mine and the style that I have seen in the streets, that the hair is curled from approximately mid-way down the hair. This is quite different to in Australia, where the hair would be curled from much higher. It seems that the way that it's done in Australia attempts to convey that the hair is naturally curly, whereas the way it is done in Asia appears to disregard the fact that it will look unnatural. This notion seems to extend to appearance in regards to plastic surgery, where this has negative connotations in Australia because it is not natural, but is more acceptable in Asia, where it is okay to look 'natural' through having plastic surgery and other 'fake' things done.

Calypso Cabaret

Tonight's festivities included interviewing two Calypso Cabaret dancers, followed by watching the Calypso Cabaret performance.

Kao, Tang Tang, Nicole and I had the opportunity to interview two of the dancers and their creative manager, Hans. Hans was quite a character, interrupting the interview, speaking in a condescending manner, lecturing us regarding his assumptions of our views and contradicting himself. For example, after lecturing us on the innappropriate nature of the term 'ladyboy', he then continued to use the term to refer to the women that we were interviewing. A further example of contradiction: he lectured on his hatred of the assumptions of the 'majorities' (e.g. heterosexuals) regarding the transgender dancers...but then he condemned me for being 'white, female and heterosexual' - oh, the assumptions! His tone of voice was incredibly frustrating, as we were given no opportunity to convey acceptance of the transgender people, nor to correct his rude assumptions about us. In summary? Hans was quite a harsh, overpowering man, who would not pause for breath during his tyrades.

Despite the incredibly harsh and rude nature of Hans' lectures throughout the interview, he did reiterate some points made by the women during the interview. Such key points made by the women during the interview included, that they do not need others to fight for their rights for them, that they wish to be viewed as people rather than pidgon-holed and stereotyped through the use of labels (such as 'ladyboy' or 'ka-theouy') and that both of them have or are studying at university (that is, being in cabaret is just a side-job for many of the dancers). I found it very sad when they spoke of each of them being discriminated against and jested during cabaret performances, as well as everyday life.


Posted by ruth'stravels 09:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged food bangkok japanese korea thai hair curls calypso cabaret make-up lady_boys Comments (0)

Day 1 & 2: Thailand

Hospitality, elephants and dancing

rain 33 °C

Flight from Melbourne to Bangkok

My reaction when I saw that our flight was leaving Melbourne at 11:30pm was, 'Oh, that's convenient. I can have dinner at home, go up to the airport and sleep on the plane'! Could I have been any more wrong? Well, what I have learnt from this flight:

  • Thai Airways provide nice food
  • Exit row seats certainly do have great leg room and individual televisions - despite their conspicuous location and Nicole initially giving away her seat!
  • I will never, and I repeat, never, be able to sleep on a plane! If I cannot sleep on a plane, even with a busy day prior to the flight, an abundance of leg room and not having a stranger next to me (Nicole had that lucky seat!)...then I NEVER will!

Weather reaction

The humidity hit the moment we exited the plane - even the airport was humid, with no attempt to reduce this via air conditioning. Initially I thought that the humidity was 'not so bad', but as time lapsed, so did my acceptance of the humidity! Luckily there is an air conditioner in Kao's room, so I can combat the heat and humidity in order to be able to sleep at night. :)

Airport style

Why is it that Singapore airport, and as I've discovered today, Bangkok airport, attempt to provide a welcoming airport atmosphere where the flora of the country comes to meet you? Is a higher value placed on making a good impression on foreigners?

Personally, I appreciate this extra effort and it allows me to feel like my exposure to the country and its wonderful flora is beginning the moment I step off the plane. But why doesn't Melbourne do that? Do Melbournians not care about making a good impression in the airport? Maybe feeling as though foreigners will love Australia, so we needn't make the extra effort?

This seems to link to the importance that Thai culture places upon hospitality, which I had only read about until my experiences today.

Kao's family

As my stay in Bangkok is through participation in the Talkback Classroom project, my accommodation is home stay with Kao, a Thai student who stayed with me for some of the Melbourne part of the project.

I feel that the best way to convey my feeling staying in Kao's family home is through a focus on famous Thai hospitality. Thai hospitality was clear from Kao's mother's manner and provision of everything that I need. Despite a slight language barrier, we ate lunch together (home cooked foods that I wouldn't be able to identify, except that they were 'very Thai') and she gave me a tour of the Chinese Buddhist temple nearby. This temple was amazing, especially when Darm informed me that all the gold was REAL and commissioned by the King! The intricacies, colours and standard of finish were amazing... too amazing for my camera to sufficiently capture the beauty.

I found it interesting to see portable fans throughout the house. This looked initially strange, but was a godsend once the humidity became too intense for me. Another difference that I noticed was that food was left out on the table, simply covered by a wood/reed basket! In Australian culture this would be viewed as allowing bacteria to grow, and is certainly not allowed according to Australian National Food Safety Standards. Nonetheless, this practice is used in Thailand and I presume that people are not perpetually ill because of it!

Lengnoeiyi Chinese Temple, Bang Bua Thong, Nonthaburi

This temple showed the amazing wealth of the Thai royal family. The King of Thailand commissioned this temple to be built approximately 5 years ago. The standard of the temple is a welcome surprise, with all gold in the temple being real gold and with the colours and intricate details being impeccable.

I found it interesting to see the variety of ages preying at the temple. It appeared that many of the people I saw preying in one room would then be seen in a later room praying again. Darm explained that this is due to each of the rooms/statues representing something different. For example, the only female statue represented luck.

Lengnoeiyi Chinese temple

Lengnoeiyi Chinese temple

Siam Niramit

The evening spent at Siam Niramit was full of surprises. The paths within the beautiful traditional Thai garden led to a variety of traditional houses from different areas of Thailand. At each of these houses, or 'check-points' (as they felt), there was a Thai person demonstrating something from that specific area. I found this most interesting, as I had not realised the depth of variety within Thailand. I believe that a contributing factor to this is my lack of knowledge regarding the variety of housing used by the Indigenous peoples of Australia or other countries. It feels like this leads to an erroneous assumption that countries are uniform in culture.

The stage performance was engaging, humerous, surprising and intellectually stimulating. As cameras were not allowed into the theatre (all attendants were required to deposit them at one of a series of desks), I have no footage of this highlight of Thailand. Unfortunately, I must advise that all add this to their Thai cultural holiday's to-do list!

Prior to the stage performance, the dancers performed a range of traditional Thai dances. These dances were complemented by the accompanying traditional music and the backdrop of elephants and traditional Thai garden. It was during this time that I took the opportunity to feed an elephant! I paid 30 Baht (approximately AUD$1) and was given a small woven basket filled with tiny cucumbers. I was quite hesitant, as I was unsure of the protocol for feeding the elephants and was not able to communicate with the elephant handler due to the language barrier. As can be seen in the video further down the page, it was an amazing experience.

Note: Prior to the beautiful backdrop for the elephants, the had been kept chained in concrete enclosures adjacent to the car park. Initially, I was captured by the exotic nature of the elephants, but this was paused by my awareness of the situation. Animal rights in Australia are relatively strict, with local zoos conveying the views of the public through providing animals with enclosures as close to their natural habitat as possible. The conditions for these elephants made me feel as if I was stepping back fifty or one hundred years and observing popular views on animal rights. How do Thai people feel about the conditions that animals should be kept in? Well, one Thai person viewing the same elephants responded that many Thai people are not concerned by the situation, though noted that it is illegal to allow one's elephant to roam the streets of cities. Such a situation is very thought provoking and may be a source of popular culture questions asked throughout my time in Bangkok with the Talkback Classroom project.

Posted by ruth'stravels 07:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged home culture flight thailand bangkok sleep siam stay popular niramit Comments (0)

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