Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back in Bangkok

On Saturday Marie asked me what I'd be doing on Sunday and I told her I was going to Bangkok to visit the National Museum and to see the movie UP. She asked what time I was leaving and the next thing I new I had company for the trip. It's weird, I'm so in the habit of being alone that I don't even think about inviting other people to do things with me. I was at first a little defensive / resentful - "she just invited herself along!". I am a planner after all and this was not part of the plan. But then I thought it might actually be fun to have someone to hang out with all day. So we met up at the minivan stop first thing in the morning and were on our way.

Museums are, unfortunately, not especially interesting to blog about since they don't allow photographs, but I won't let that stop me ;) . By the way can anyone answer these two questions for me: 1. Why don't they allow photographs in museums? (I know some do, or in some places, but for the ones that don't - why not???) and 2. Why is it that despite the number of "No Photography" signs there are, in multiple languages and unmistakable pictures, some people will take pictures anyway?

Photographs or no, I adore museums. I love natural history museums, art museums, science museums...all of them! I just love walking around and looking at cool stuff and reading little signs that tell me what they are and why they're cool. I had hoped to take an actual tour at this museum, but we missed it by about half an hour. Oh well. Marie is less interested in museums (I told her she could hang out in the cafe if she got 'museum fatigue'), but she was a champ and stuck with it for the couple of hours we were there.

The first room was mostly dioramas about the different periods of ancient Thai history. I have to admit a certain fondness for dioramas, and these were really cool - little people in period appropriate costumes engaging in battles - model elephants charging the enemies, really quite cool. Each of the dioramas was explained on the wall beside it in both Thai and English. Unfortunately the English translations were a bit tough to follow. All the words were right, but some of the more complicated sentences were constructed poorly. I briefly considered doing some volunteer work re-translating everything, then you know, came to my senses. =P

After the dioramas there were a few more rooms of Thai history, artifacts and pictures bringing us into the modern age. Some highlights for me - a gift of a rifle from the President of the US to the King of Thailand (it didn't say which president, that King's reign was circa 1880 - 1906 - let's call it McKinley, sounds like something he'd do). Another corner discussed the arrival of Portuguese explorers/immigrants who brought Christianity and some weapons technology. In the little box there were several small crosses and a broken porcelain cup "used in religious ceremonies." It's endlessly interesting to me to see my culture reflected back to me from someone else's eyes. I mean, it was clearly a communion cup but the concept of 'taking communion' would be at best confusing and more than likely deeply disturbing to a Buddhist audience. "The wine turns to what now? And you *drink* this?"

The history portion of the museum finished up with the current King, Rama 9. I learned a few interesting things, he was born in the US and went to University in Switzerland - which now explains why when I ask my students where in the world they would like to travel a surprising number pick "Switzerland" as their dream destination. The King himself is an artist and there were some pictures of his work - a photograph he took of his children's hands and two paintings he did of his beloved Queen. I admit I got a little choked up, they were really beautiful pictures and the whole thing was quite romantic.

Beyond that there were several more rooms, one devoted to furniture and household objects inlaid with mother of pearl (absolutely gorgeous, fine detailed work). Gold, gold and more gold...mostly Buddha figures and offerings for temples. A room of weapons, one of musical instruments, another of puppets & dolls, costumes and textiles (yes, I spent quite a bit of time in this room). I have to say I was a little shocked / disappointed in the condition of a lot of the displays. Only the first building was air conditioned and some of the others didn't even have fans, so it was quite hot and a bit stuffy in some of the rooms. There was mold on a pillow holding something, and the windows were open near some very old wooden cabinets, dust collecting on objects that were out in the open. I mean, most things were under glass and pretty much everything was in good condition. It's just not really what I was expecting. By comparison, American museums are downright antiseptic. Different standards I guess.

There was a whole separate building devoted to funeral chariots. The chariots are huge multi-layered gold vehicles (not unlike parade floats) to carry the remains of the royal family members in the funeral procession. One particularly stunning chariot was originally built in something like 1778. It didn't look old at all, and the plaque stated that it had been continuously used and restored over it's lifetime. Can you imagine? Seriously, is there anything in the States that's been in continuous use since George Washington's time?

After touring the main buildings Marie was fading and I was pretty hungry myself, so we skipped a couple of the side galleries (coins & statuary... not really my thing anyway) and after a stop in the blessedly air-conditioned and mold-free gift shop to add to my collection of postcards, we headed to lunch.

My explorations of Bangkok have been embarrassingly modest. I generally base myself at Siam Square - an area comprised of four major malls and a little shopping complex, and just take a taxi or the BTS from there to my destination. Bangkok's heat and humidity discourages street-by-street meandering. So we ended up in the basement of Siam Paragon for lunch. Paragon is by far the swankiest mall I have ever been to. Between the Hermes, Gucci, Cartier and Coach stores, I'm more than a little intimidated. The only shop I've actually entered was Asia books (which ironically is a chain of English Language bookstores), and we spent a good long time in there before heading down to the food court.

The food court is pretty awesome. There is a large cafeteria type area where you can get standard, if upscale, Thai foods, but there are also a ton of restaurants... McDonalds of course, but also Burger King (which is a bit rarer over here), A fish & chips restaurant, a couple steak houses, a Tony Romas (!!!), at least three Japanese places, a tea house, a French bakery (I tried it once - hardly French but not bad at all), an Au Bon Pain, Aunt Annie's Pretzels, an Indian restaurant, several dessert shops, and a coffee shop or two. Basically, for me it's food nirvana and my favorite place to eat. We decided to try Mos Burgers - a Japanese hamburger joint that reminded me strongly of In & Out in California. I had a pretty tasty, if small, terriyaki chicken burger, and Marie had the Mos Burger. Both were good and came with actual, honest to goodness mayonnaise. I was pretty happy. I'm not sure what the Thais have been using on my burgers, but it's not mayonnaise and it is not good!

Well fed and and feeling culturally enriched, we went to see UP. It was offered in 3-D a couple of places but it was double the price of watching it in 2D. We went for cheap & flat. It's always interesting to watch a movie in a foreign country but I think this one was a particularly good one for me to watch in Thailand. I heart Pixar so much, I just have to say. They fully understand the value of showing over telling. The first movie short "Partly Cloudy" was completely free of dialogue. It was fun to be sitting there with an audience (80% Thai I'd guess) and know that even if we can't really communicate with each other, we were all sharing the same experience, ooohing, ahhing, laughing and tearing up at the same parts. The same can be said for the first - what? 10, 20 minutes of the movie. No dialogue, no subtitles were needed to tell us exactly what was going on (the value of music cannot be understated though). Not going to say a word about the plot, but I just loved it. I'm very glad I'm already on my adventure, and am glad that I have not been so focused on the destination as to have lost sight of the journey.

The movie was followed by a trip back to the Paragon food court for dinner. We shared a plate of fish & chips, a Caesar salad, garlic bread and cream of broccoli soup. Delicious! God I love Western food! =) Sated and exhausted we headed back to Victory Monument and got the last two seats on the last minivan home. Nothing like cutting it close. ;) Then home again, home again the very same day.

TAG: Code Mango


Cate said...

Unfortunately I never made it to the National Museum, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE that food court in the basement of Siam Paragon. I miss it!

Rebel said...

Don't worry. It's not exactly a "must see" but it was nice to go since I'm here.

Bezzie said...

Wow. Tony Romas? They still have those? Sounds like a fun cross-cultural adventure.

I'm not sure why they do the no cameras rule? I know why they do it for paintings, but for artifacts and sculptures and other non-paintings? I don't know!

IamSusie said...

I love museums too. It is so interesting to get a feel for the history of a place when you go to the local museum. I think the no cameras rule has to do with copyright. Some museums want to own all images of their collections. Also, the light from flash photos can fade colors over time.

Up is such a good movie. We saw it in 3-D, but I don't think it was worth it. The glasses get uncomfortable and after awhile you get so absorbed in the wonderful story, you don't notice the 3-D effect.

Rebel said...

Bezzie - no idea why they have Tony Romas... it's random which things get imported.

IamSusie - glad to hear we didn't miss too much not seeing UP in 3-D. I think a 3-D short would be good, but I'm not sure I could handle it for a whole movie either.