Thursday, October 29, 2009

Train Ride to Vizag

Safely aboard the Howrah Express Mail Train bound northward towards Vizag, I settled into my berth in the 2-tier AC sleeper car. Ah, this was so much better than the non-AC 3-tier traveling that we had done in Rajasthan; no desert sands spewing in, a climate-controlled environment, less people, and even a pillow and bed sheets provided! Checking out the bathrooms, I was pleased to see a fairly clean (by Indian standards) Western toilet with toilet paper – a big step from the scary toilets in the 2nd-class non-AC trains we previously took! I turned on my iPod, hoping that the music would drown out the cell phone talking by the two men in the upper bunks, one of who switched between two phones.
The train rocked back and forth during the night, crossing the Tamil Nadu border and into Andhra Pradesh. Every once in a while the train would stop, rather briefly in small villages and longer at larger stations. Dawn revealed a serene landscape, the soft glow of the emerging sun behind the fog rolling over the paddy fields. Palm trees silhouetted against the increasingly warm-colored sky. Already in early morning, farmers were out in the fields, with rice being the dominant crop. The train tracks went past thatched huts with cows in the yard and mounded piles of hay in the fields. Men bathed in rivers and pools of water. Women washed clothes by hand in the rivers, laying out the cloth on the nearby fields.

Soon the vendors began walking through the aisles of the moving train, calling out chai, coffee, omelet, and other Indian breakfast items. As the train continued northward, it relieved itself of more passengers, with a few boarding. Finally, around 1pm, we arrived at the railway station of Vizag, otherwise known as Visakhaptnam.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Looking at the other side of things

I generally perceive the media as being biased and narrow-minded. Nonetheless, I scan the online news. This morning BBC reported about the Karadzic trial but also included a posting about Serbia's mixed feelings about the case. BBC, even during the bombing campaign and sanctions against Serbia was one of the few who actually sought to get input from residents of Belgrade, etc. Journalists who did this found a very different side. I would like to see this continue, as there is more than one side to the story and the public deserves to hear it.

Chennai Central Train Station

My trip to Andhra Pradesh and Orissa (two Indian states north of Tamil Nadu) began at the train station. This was the first time I had taken a train from Chennai. Not surprisingly, the large station was crowded with people eager to travel on the Diwali holiday. I had been warned about the huge rats, but thankfully I saw none.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tunisia's President Re-Elected - Again

The current president of Tunisia has been re-elected for his fifth term. Ben Ali has already served 23 years as President, with normal terms lasting 5 years. With about 84% voter turnout, Ben Ali secured almost 90% of the votes - less than in 2004 when he received 95%, but impressive nonetheless. The African Union representative called the voting fair, but others once again cried foul play.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

That's Some Bunny!

As I said yesterday, one can buy quite an assortment at the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok. This stall was selling bunnies and related accessories - yup, even cute outfits for the fluffy creatures. With those frilly outfits, I sure hope all these bunnies are girls!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chatuchak Weekend Market

If you're into shopping and don't mind looking around for a while, Bangkok's Weekend Market is for you. With over 15,000 stalls on 35 acres, there's something for everyone. Everything from goldfish to silk scarves to Levis jeans can be had here. Located at the end of the Skytrain line, the Weekend market is easy to get to and attracts locals and visitors alike - over 200,000 per day. Thankfully things are basically organized by content item, so you can probably avoid ever having to see the pitiful caged puppies if you're only interested in silk table runners or bronze Buddhas.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Monumental King

The monumental image of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej on this Sukhumvit skyscraper attests to his esteemed status. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest-serving monarch, having come to the throne in 1946. One of the major faux pas in Thailand is to say or do anything that is disrespectful towards the monarchy. During my brief visit in Bangkok, the front page of the newspapers had daily updates as to what the elderly king's health status was.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thai Orchids

One thing that thrives well in Thailand's tropical climate are orchids. A national symbol, orchids of Thailand are exported all over the world. These orchids were photographed at the Jim Thompson House.

Canal Homes, Bangkok

The canals of Bangkok continue to be a popular means of transport for those who don't want to deal with the congested streets. Houses line the banks of the canals, a testament to the importance of waterways in Bangkok's history. A few homes on stilts still remain, but most homes are rather unremarkable or are in a dilapidated state.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok

Tucked away on a quiet, narrow street two blocks from Bangkok's chic Siam Square shopping mall is the Jim Thompson House. A military officer in Bangkok following World War II, the American Jim Thompson fell in love with Bangkok and decided to return and live there permanently.

Jim Thompson, an architect by trade, constructed his house by combining six teak buildings representing the best of Thai architecture. Many of these buildings were over 200 years old at the time and were easily dismantled and moved from places such as the old capital of Ayudhya. Adhering to customs of traditional Thai homes, Thompson had his houses elevated a full story above the ground so as to avoid flooding during the rainy season. Just beyond the thick foliage of the property is the river, still used for efficient transportation. The fired roof tiles also follow the old style. The red paint we see is a preservative typical of old Thai buildings.

Inside, the house is a mixture of traditional and Western styles. A large flat sofa in the living room provides an area for a nap or meeting guests. Statues of Buddha and rare Buddhist  paintings adorn the walls. Chinese commodes cleverly disguised as ceramic frogs and cats sit in the bedrooms. Elevated thresholds prevent babies from crawling out and evil spirits from entering. Jim also added some modern amenities such as a full table with chairs, chandeliers, and toilet.

Jim Thompson moved into his house on a spring day in 1959, the date designated as auspicious by an astrologer he visited. Thompson began amassing a collection of Asian art that began to draw considerable interest, enough so that he opened his house to the public. Donated funds went to Thai charities and projects that aimed to preserve Thailand's rich cultural heritage.

Aside from the homes, art collection and beautiful garden, Jim Thompson is credited with reviving the ancient Thai craft of silk handweaving. Combining his design and textile coloring skills, Thompson directed the creation of high-quality silk products that are still highly revered today.

While on a trip to the highlands of Malaysia in 1967, Thompson mysteriously disappeared without a clue or trace. In 1976 the James H.W. Thompson Foundation was established, continuing the preservation of Thailand's rich artistic and cultural heritage. The Foundation supports research, publications, and seminar projects to further its mission.