Wednesday, 5 December 2007

What colour shirt shall I wear today ...

Yesterday was a very important day for the Thai people. It was the birthday of their beloved King, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. At the not incosiderable age of 80 it was an important year for both King and country.

In respect for his majesty the Thai nation sported yellow shirts, flags and other apparel and took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands. For many months now the nation has been practising a song composed especially for his majesty. At an appointed time last night (I believe it was 8pm) the entire nation stopped to sing the King's song and to hold a yellow candle aloft in respect to all he has done for the nation.
Bizarely I was dining in a French restaurant called Le Bouchon which is off the beaten track so to speak, at the end of Surawongse Soi 2. For those who know, that Soi is part of Pat-pong and is one of the less salubrious soi's in Silom. During dinner the street, which is bordered by many rather unpleasant bars (topless pool was one that caught my eye ...,) became full of the staff (and clientele) from these bars. By 8pm the street was full. Awash with yellow and high on anticipation. Every radio and TV in the vicinity was placed in the street and turned up as loud as it would go. The dignitaries speeches and celebrations were literally reverberating through the windowpane.
Everyone wore their yellow shirts and carried their yellow candles in a very proud and passionate display of their unwavering love for Thailand's monarch.
What an extraordinary sight it was. What a wonderfully rich and poignant clash of faith and the faithful.
The congregation paid their deserved respects, they sang together as a nation and then as quickly as they had congregated they dispersed, back to work in Bangkok's Pat-Pong.
Those that worked in a topless bar I assume would have had to take their shirts off straight away, but it seemed that many were eager to keep their yellow shirt on as it is speaks for them and about them in a way that words do not.
I felt honoured to be a viewer of such an important event in the Thai calendar and hope that it was a very happy birthday for all concerned.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

A brief list of things I like about Singapore

1 - Singapore's Changi airport is the most efficient I have ever been to. I have travelled to it and through it a dozen times or so. Without fail the time between touchdown and taxi departure has been less than 25 minutes. The immigration staff are pleasant (unlike Sydney) and effective (unlike Heathrow, Bangkok or many other airports I could name.) The taxi queue is organised with military precision by friendly smiling staff with smashing white gloves!2 - City planning is something of an art in Singapore. It seems that there has been a clear city plan since the time of sir Thomas Raffles' founding of the colony way back in 1819. I was surprised and a little thrilled to see the colonial influences that abound. Throughout the island there are wide tree lined boulevards that stretch ahead like a cinematic trick of the eyes. They remind me of my early youth growing up in colonial Africa. These tree lined streets are found on the main arterial routes into the city as well as throughout the city itself.

3 - The main shopping street (Orchard Road) is a wide set boulevard that has shade cover from two long strips of very grand tall trees (figs?) on each side of the road. The pavements have been built wide and are luxurious in the space they provide. Each pavement also has a strip of vegetation that gives the shopping experience on Orchard Road a relaxed and leisurely feel. Apparently Orchard road has the highest concentration of shopping malls in the world. Quite a claim to fame ...

4 - The locals speak great English. Excuse me for being lazy but hey it doesn't half make a difference.

5 - The restaurants are fantastic. My favourite for dinner is Graze restaurant. A beautifully designed restaurant where most dining takes place outside. The food is modern 'fusion' and the menu is extensive and well presented. The addition of a large screen that plays black and white movies in French adds a wonderful if slightly eccentric touch.

6 - Hotel lobby Karaoke. It is true that the entertainment in most hotels each evening is amateur karaoke. Whether run by teenage Philipinno's or middle aged expats there's something for everyone (although a few drinks might be necessary!)

Sunday, 25 November 2007


This weekend in Thailand was Loy Krathong. An ancient Thai festival that celebrates two main things; Thais connection with water and a basic human yearning to be cleansed of troubles, worries or sins.

The festival itself is very important in Thailand and many rivers or klongs are covered in little individual lights gently floating along. Each light a representation of the fact that humans feel a very strong need to purge themselves of negative feelings about things that have past.

It struck me quite strongly how many parallels this beautiful festival holds with behaviours of other culture, religions and beliefs.

We all need to feel that we are accepted and that our mistakes are forgiven. However I have to say that the Thais have found a very beautiful and engaging way to do this. Happy Loy Krathong!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Feeling at home ... all it takes is a 'hello'

I have just returned from Manila in the Philippines. My first trip to the country.
From my first reaction it felt like another Asian country and I felt, once again, like another outsider ...
Until the first local spoke to me in easily understood well spoken English ( ... a street vendor.)
Despite being a long way from home I have never before realised just how close to home a "Hello'' can bring you. The fact that the Philippinos could communicate and understand me so well was a very comforting feeling.
Its obvious I know, but until one is starved of something one never appreciates it's importance.
I cant help but think that Asian countries that have strong English skills are surely those that will be easiest to do business with, and therefore will succeed over neighbours who are more difficult to communicate with and understand.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

The land of trials; Ten things I love about Mototaxis

1 - A mototaxi has no MOT test. It may be brand new, or it may be held together with elastics, gaffertape of string.

2 - Mototaxi drivers (like delivery boys in London) earn more by speeding wildly through traffic which can cause the odd adrenalin rush as they jump red lights, undertake buses or use pavements as an alternative.

3 - When a Moto driver needs to cross the oncoming traffic and he sees a gap (I wouldnt call it a gap!) he will usually pull in front of a bus or truck as they are travelling slower than other vehicles. My Dad always said "if you're gonna go, make sure its not in front of a bus!'

4 - When the path in the road ahead narrows because two cars are pulling closer together, a Thai moto driver does not slow down to avoid the crush, he accelerates.

5 - Moto drivers give you helmets: THAT DONT WORK. Clearly its not passenger safety being taken into account here, its police fine avoidance, plain and simple.

6 - Not all motos are the same and many simply dont fit Farang!

7 - Moto drivers will shout out and chat to passing friends, whilst doing 80 kms down Sathorn (It's a five lane freeway.)

8 - Moto drivers will happily smoke ciggies whilst ferrying their passengers one handed.

9 - My moto trips are sometimes the highlight of my day! The adrenalin, the abandon, the wind, the view.

10 - The thing I love most about moto drivers is they get you where you want, very quickly indeed! Whether they use roads, parks, pavements whatever. Given the average speed of a car in BKK is approx 5-6 Kms an hour. That's a beautiful thing!

The land of trials

As everyone knows, Thailand is a very visually beautiful country. Its people (especially its women) are pretty, in the real sense of the word. They are immaculately presented and very graceful. The Thai pride is immense. A Thai will put enormous effort into what they do to ensure that its presentation and therefore its perception by others is of a very high quality.

A few examples;
The delivery boy will spend ten minutes in the lift doing his hair before he walks into an office.

The banana seller on the street although poor and with very little equipment will have a very well arranged, beautiful stall. A westerner would be hard pressed to do the same with a few boxes and a banana leaf.

My driver (K Sam of karaoke fame) will hand you a chilled towel a bottle of water, a box of sweets and a microphone the moment you step into his taxi.

When checking into a hotel a bowl of fruit will be beautifully arranged, with flowers in a vase and petals on your pillow.

Sounds the same the world over I hear you say, well no. In Thailand it really is different. Its about the ratio of externalness and internalness. Because of this however this visual pleasure is misunderstood by many westerners.

Ultimately from what I have worked out, presentation is the very fundamental basis of Thai culture, because perception really is everything; Doing your job is not as important as pleasing your boss. Getting an excellent outcome (on a project) is not as important as having a process that is lavishly presented and enjoyed (or at least noticed) by everyone.

Thai culture and people are truly amazing in a way that we will never really understand. On the outside we seem to be the same, but what drives our similar behaviours (smiles, presentation etc.) is harshly juxtaposed. When living and working here it often feels like we clash! This brings tension especially in a business sense.

That is why I have named this post 'The land of trials', because for a Farang like me, behind the smiles are a mass of complex behaviours thoughts and motivations that do not match those that sit behind the smile on my face (and why does no one ever frown for goodness sakes?)

So instead of trying to explain things, for now, although that is my ultimate aim, I have decided to start a series of observations. No fancy formats. I'm going to pick random topics in daily life and list ten things I love about them! Almost hoping some insight or understanding will float to the surface.
Even if it doesnt it should be fun in the meantime ...

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Writers blog

For months now I have been unable to blog.

Its been troubling me, I have really avoided blogging altogether.

At the end of the day, nobody's lost anything, or so I thought! Apart from me of course. I lost an outlet. And I have been the worse off for it.

I was enjoying my journey into blogging. Until it came to an abrupt halt!

Then something great happened. My esteemed colleague and very great friend Katie (author of super blog "Get Shouty" )redesigned our work website as a blog .

This one thing has unblocked the bloggage in my blog. Its simple I have a work blog space and this is now my a personal blog space. I like to think of it as a virtual pair of ears.

This is the optimum situation I believe, because I have somewhere where I can blog/ rant/ make clever things up about work stuff, and selling people stuff they dont want need or use.

And I have somewhere where I can explore more personal areas of interest to me as a human being, things that truly matter to me as I grow up and develop a sense of self.

A few rules I have set myself;

This blog is mine. It is about discovering my own personal truth.

This blog will reflect my journey of growth and self development; both positive and negative.

This blog is about me, my thoughts, my aims, my dreams, my beliefs, my goals. None of the opinions here reflect the opinions of my employers, or anyone else unless stated so.

This blog will set out what I want to learn/ understand/ investigate and ultimately achieve in my life.

This blog will record each success as it is realised.

So to start my blog again I didnt know where to start. I braindumped everything and I have made a list, with many post it notes (Nick and I made this list together.)

This will form the structure of my blog content! Bring it on!