Monday, February 14, 2011

Pull My Finger

I must confess that I recently taught this ancient trick to my wife and that she found it as hysterical as I did when I was a young boy and had just discovered the repellent joys of farting.  The Thai word for fart is ตด (pronounced dtot, rhymes with boat). I'm told that it's rather impolite but funnier than another Thai word which is the equivalent of "flatulence."  Nan learned the trick quickly and has even developed some intriguing variations which I won't describe (marriage is a sacred and therefore secret bond, don'tcha know).  And for some perverse reason, farting seemed a suitable topic to mark Valentine's Day which the Thais have embraced as their own.  On our outing to the palaces of consumption yesterday, Nan and I posed for photos at various "Love" locations for shoppers like the above scene at Siam Paragon.

Lest you think my humor is in the toilet, let me confirm this suspicion with a photo I took last week.  The other door said "LADY."  As a liberated man, I prefer "gentle" to "gent."  On the subject of farting, I yield to no less a respected writer than Mark Twain, author of "1601," the once-censored short fiction which purports to recount a conversation among the court of Queen Elizabeth over who farted.  As a student at Berkeley in the early 1960s, I heard about this story and read it in a special room in the library where scholars could examine the scandalous manuscript.  The other student in the room was a graduate student from the Soviet Union.  This was the dark ages when Henry Miller's Tropics and D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover were still banned in America.  Now you can read or download "1601" for free from Project Gutenberg.  "Born irreverent," Mark Twain wrote on a scratch pad among his collected papers, and, "like all other people I have ever known or heard of--I am hoping to remain so while there are any reverent irreverences left to make fun of." I think the Thais would appreciate Twain's ribald and iconoclastic sense of humor.  He must be laughing about the recent censored editions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in which "Nigger" was replaced with "Slave," "Injun" changed to Indian and "Half Breed" changed to "Half Blood."

 Nan posed with her newly curled hair at another Love photo op site in the shopping mall.  The hair of most Thais is naturally straight but curls are currently in fashion, and she paid 200 baht for a short-term perm in the morning.  By evening it was determined the experiment was not a total success.  Today, when Thai couples were exchanging chocolates and flowers, the curl had gone.  Each year on Valentine's Day, the press in Bangkok wrings its hands over the sexual license teens might take.  In an official government press release, the Ministry of Public Health expressed concern over the tendency of Thai teenagers to have sex on Valentine’s Day, saying that unprepared sex can lead to the unwanted pregnancy problem. An official survey showed teens would spend time with their loved ones on Valentine’s Day by watching good films, listening to music, having dinner and staying together. The government spokesman worried that such activities "could arouse teenagers to have sexual intercourses very easily for many reasons such as love, emotion, curiosity, satisfaction and mental immaturity." Duh.

 One goal Sunday was to see "Portraits of Asia," the new exhibit of photography in the plaza in front of Central World.  The portraits by Eric Lafforgue of people in Thailand, New Guinea, India, China, Burma and elsewhere in Asia were large and dramatic, a breathtaking view of the varieties of human cultural experience.  Self-taught, Lafforgue began taking pictures just five years ago, posting his travel photos on Flickr, where they became an instant sensation. The annual exhibit is sponsored by Central World, the annual Francophile festival La Fête and Zen Department Store (which is under reconstruction).  In recent years it has been "Planet Ocean" by Laurent Ballesta  and "The Earth from Above" by Yann Arthus Bertrand.  The exhbit's layout was somewhat constrained by the construction site and shared the plaza with a "Floating Market" that floated on little more than hard cement. 

We also stopped by the Bangkok Art and Culture Center and sampled a couple of the current exhibitions, including "Soft Power," an display of photography of women by Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, daughter of the Crown Prince, who has made a career for herself designing clothes.  She's currently undergoing an internship at Christian Dior and Bulgari in Paris.  According to publicity for the exhibit, the photos showcase her latest "innerwear" creations, an interesting euphemism for lingerie.  The Princess could give Victoria's Secret a run for its money.  Some of the assemblages featuring scantily clad women bordered on the scandalous.  Shades of Mark Twain!

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Many Thai shrines contain zebras (along with other animals and Buddha, Brahma and Ganesha), but this herd in the center divider of Ratchadaphisek Rd in Lad Phrao is outstanding. What's up with the zebras?  I've yet to receive an authoritative word.  Apparently someone tried putting a toy zebra in a shrine (here it's a tree wrapped in colored cloth) and their wish was granted.  So others added to the collection with more wishes and more zebras.  One Thai friend suggested that piggy banks could start a new trend.  It's certainly got little to do with Buddhism.  I tried praying to the zebras but it didn't help my friend and I find the courtroom where the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of independent news portal Prachatai, was being held on charges of lèse majesté, a landmark case for internet freedom and all freedom of expression in Thailand.  The directions we had were incomplete.  We thought about trying again this week (the zebras might help), but learned that testimony has been delayed for six months.  So much for speedy trials in Thailand.

I was horrified to see the entire Skytrain car in which we rode yesterday covered in ads for KFC.  One panel contained attractive phrases like "feel so good," "taste so good," "look so good," "smell so good."  It was enough to make a vegetarian gag.  In the poster behind my head you can see a pair of Thai twins gorging on the crusty stuff.  According to an article in the Bangkok Post, "Thai youngsters are growing up loving fast food and junk food despite how unhealthy it is, which is leading to an obesity epidemic. Over the past five years, there has been a 40% increase in obesity among Thai children under the age of six. About 22 million people over the age of 15 are considered obese, according to the Public Health Ministry."  In a couple of years, those cute twins chowing down on Kentucky Fat Chicken will look like a couple of sumo wrestlers.

But, as my mother used to say, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.  I've been fascinated by the success of Krispy Kreme donuts in Thailand.  The first store was opened in the high-class Siam Paragon last year and crowds were enormous, with people waiting hours for the privilege of purchasing the premier item in America's national cuisine.  We checked yesterday and saw that lines were still quite long, and many people, most of them Thai, were buying many large boxes of the donuts.  "Mai khao jai," I said, showing off my limited Thai; "I don't understand." Nan quickly set me straight:  "They're buying them to sell."  Of course!  Thais are born entrepreneurs.    And sure enough, on the way home in Pinklao last night we spied a woman selling donuts that she assured us were fresh, purchased that morning at Siam Paragon's outlet.  I couldn't resist and bought three.  They were selling at 3 for 100 baht, a profit of 19 baht over the single price of 27 baht.  And they were aroi maak (delicious)!


Janet Brown said...

You're lucky in many ways to be married to Nan--her explanation of the KKreme by the box syndrome is most welcome. Thank you, Mrs Yaryan!

Sam Deedes said...

Had myself a spooky moment on the Skytrain courtesy KFC. I was sitting opposite the TV screen which was showing the Thai twins "gorging on the crusty stuff" when suddenly another train going in the opposite direction swept by covered with giant grinning images of Colonel Sanders.

MacGregor Family Blog said...

Coming to terms with gas - the flatulance challenge. Nice to see you're not afraid of tackling any subject Will. It was nice seeing you at the Psychos meeting today. Let's get together soon. Tony