Friday, May 18, 2018

Christmas Card Challenge 2016/17: An Update from the Organizer

Thailand is humid. The humidity is affecting our Christmas Card Challenge. The masking tape adhesive is now super glue. I made an executive decision today, as Principal Designer and Referee of the Christmas Card Challenge contest, to modify said contest in light of the super glue tape.

I pried the cards off the wall, cut the tape in half, and reattached them very loosely.

Let's hope we see some action soon. If not, we reserve the right to try something else to get this thing moving.

Fall, you stupid SOBs. Fall!
Happy Holidays...still...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

What's in My Jug? A Triumphant Return!

It's been a year since we've looked at the jug. Here it is, full of beautiful, yellow orchids.

Honestly, it's probably going to be orchids indefinitely. Tune in anyway, in case the jug surprises us.

Welcome back, jug. I've missed you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bang Kachao: Bangkok's Green Lung

Last week was a week of adventures, one of which I already documented for you, HERE. I've declared this week a week of rest, not only because I have a lot of crap to catch up on, but also because The Kid got super mean after running around in the heat for several, consecutive days. One of the things I've been wanting to do is write to you about Bang Kachao.

Bang Kachao is the "green lung" of Bangkok. It's a pseudo-island, naturally protected from the city by a bend in the big river, and artificially cut off from it by a canal. It's still relatively undeveloped and villagey, with cheap produce stalls alongside the road, and dedicated hike/bike paths around the island.

Running away to Bang Kachao. 

Despite its proximity, and the island's many draws, we've only been over there twice. Our first visit was last October. We went to Bang Kachao's floating market with Phil's family. Though Bangnamphung is called a "floating" market, it's more like a regular weekend market suspended over a wetland, where you walk on sidewalks instead of paddle in boats. It was still really great. The market was created for tourists, but the crowd seemed mostly local. Products and prices were local, too. Phil had delicious, cheap satay, and The Kid fed a bunch of koi from a baby bottle (See: HERE).

Entering Bangnamphung floating market.

Inside the market.

This looks like a stock photo. I should sell this. I want royalties. 

Our most recent Bang Kachao visit took us to a botanical garden on the island, called the Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park and Botanical Garden.

Did you catch all of that?

The Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park and Botanical Garden ("The Park") is a free, public park with bike trails, picnic areas, and paved nature walks. It's part of the wetlands, so I was expecting the whole thing to look like it did on the way into The Park. 

This is what I thought The Park was going to be: an untamed Thai jungle. 

Instead, it was a beautiful, manicured, labeled botanical garden.

This looks like an entryway to the vast, Hawaiian villa of an evil robber baron, doesn't it?

And this is so pretty, it almost makes me want to quote nature poetry that I pretend to have read.

We spent about an hour walking around The Park. It was quiet, and even shady in places. We learned about the local flora, and saw winged animals that weren't pigeons.

That's a butterfly.
An actual butterfly, I tell you.

It was refreshing to get out of the city. That's a cliche thing said by city folk that I finally understand now that I live in a smothering megacity with 14 million other human beings, and a bunch of soi dogs.

Bang Kachao is a nice place to hide from Bangkok, and it's close enough that we don't have to pack five thousand bags to see it with our kid. I particularly liked the Sri Nakhon Khu...The Park...on the island, and plan to return to it every time Bangkok makes me homicidal.

Gotta catch some of those island vibes, man.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Baan Krua

I told you I was eager to see Baan Krua. I dragged the kid across the canal today to see the origins of Jim Thompson's Thai Silk Company Limited. If you have no idea who, what, or where I'm talking about, go back one post, and read about it all HERE.

Crossing the khlong to get to Baan Krua.

If you don't want to do that, it's your loss, and I wash my hands of you. But, for the sake of being charitable, I'll give you a brief summary. Baan Krua was an area of Bangkok originally granted to the Cham Muslims who fled from other Southeast Asian countries. They brought their tradition of silk weaving to Thailand, and developed small production workshops in the community. In the late 1940s, Jim Thompson, an American architect/spy, moved to Thailand and co-founded the Thai Silk Company Limited. Relying on established local weavers from Baan Krua, Jim built an international reputation for himself, and for Thai silk. After his disappearance, production for Thai Silk Company Limited was moved to another area of Thailand. The tradition remained in Baan Krua, as did some of the original silk workshops.

Jim Thompson's house from Baan Krua.

I only learned about Baan Krua recently, while trying to find interesting, offbeat things to see in Bangkok. The neighborhood was described by our Lonely Planet book as "old, tightly packed homes threaded by tiny paths barely wide enough for two people to pass." That screamed, "Old, Greek island village!" to me, so of course I had to pay it a visit. Oh boy, did it live up to expectations. 

The main draw of the neighborhood is the silk stuff. We popped inside one of the workshops to see what we could see. I felt a bit guilty, as we caught them on a particularly hot day, right around lunch time. They had to get up and turn things on for us. They were very welcoming, and didn't begrudge the intrusion.

He was fascinated for about a minute, then declared he was, "All done," and had to be held for the duration of our visit.

This woman was hard at work on the loom when we arrived. She paused to take some photos of The Kid, so we took some photos of her.

Given the circumstances, I felt obligated to buy something from their shop. I should be clear that there was absolutely no pressure on their end, and very little resistance on my part. The biggest check on my shopping was that I hadn't thought to bring more cash. They had beautiful scarves, bags, pillows, and bolts of silk. The prices are reasonable, when you consider the cost across the canal. In the end, this was what caught my eye, with wallet approval:

Isn't it gorgeous? I want to frame it and hang it on a wall somewhere.

There's at least one other workshop that we didn't visit this time, because we wandered around in the opposite direction. Baan Krua is a great place to wander. Wandering with a kid was an extra treat. Thais love kids, and he drew all the attention. It was a nice deflection from me, the gawking farang photographing the neighborhood. Nobody seemed put off by either of us being there (certainly not him--they'd have kept him if possible), but it was definitely the village experience, in that there are a lot of people at home looking at you and wondering what you're doing there. I loved it. It brought back good memories of Greece.

This is one of the old houses tucked away in the neighborhood. I couldn't handle the beautiful woodwork, and was audibly exclaiming over it. A woman stopped to ask if I was lost.

This makes gardening look effortless. Maybe it is for other people.

I like this entry.

We had a great trip. Someone in the neighborhood told us to come back again, and I said, "We will!" maybe a bit too forcefully, because it was clear they were primarily talking to The Kid and not me. Whatever. I'll be back, whether they like it or not.

Crossing the khlong to get back to the big city.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Jim Thompson House

When Phil's family came to visit us (in October...of last year), we went to the Jim Thompson House museum. Jim Thompson House is one of the top attractions in Bangkok, according to TripAdvisor. That's a little bit surprising to me, as is the fact that I had to sift through three separate Wikipedia pages to give you background on Jim Thompson and his house. That's right, I use Wikipedia. I'm not in school anymore, so I can use whatever source I want.

Jim was an architect who became involved with the feds during WWII. He worked for the precursor to the CIA, where he specialized in Southeast Asia affairs, with a specific interest in ending the Japanese occupation of Thailand. In the late 1940s, he moved to Thailand permanently, and founded the Thai Silk Company Limited with his buddy. They tapped the local labor market to find skilled, cheap weavers, many of whom were members of the Cham Muslim community (more on them in a minute).

As his silk company flourished, Jim became a prominent international figure, with a neat collection of Southeast Asian art. He decided to build a compound to showcase his stuff. The result is the Jim Thompson House museum, which I photographed so well.

The museum is comprised of several buildings, themselves salvaged from different places around Thailand. It's a small compound, about half an acre, but it's a pretty retreat. If you can't make it to the jungles in Thailand, these curated grounds photograph well.

This is the house where Jim actually lived--the true Jim Thompson House.

Jim's house sits next to a khlong, or canal. If you follow us on Instagram (@janeandphilandstuff), you know that Bangkok was once known as "Venice of the East" because of its canals. Many of Jim's laborers lived across the khlong in the Baan Krua Nua area. This area of the city was given to the Cham Muslims, who fled to Thailand from Vietnam, and other SE Asian countries. They brought a long tradition of weaving, and were instrumental to the success of the Thai Silk Company Limited.

While we were visiting Jim's house, we heard the call to prayer across the canal. Manufacturing for Thai Silk has moved to a different area of Thailand, but the original craft is still practiced by the community in Baan Krua. This came to my attention very recently, and now I'm eager to cross the khlong to see it. If you want to read more about Baan Krua from someone who isn't me, check out the information HERE.

This is not the khlong. These koi could not hack it in the khlong. This is a pond at Jim's.

In 1967, Jim Thompson disappeared during a trip to Malaysia. There have been a lot of theories about his disappearance, but the case remains unsolved. What I think we can all agree on is that his house is for sure haunted now. I have absolutely no evidence to support that, and I don't believe it anyway, but it would add an element of excitement to the tour.

Jim is gone, but his art remains. You can see it at little inconvenience for a small fee. There is a good, pricey restaurant at the museum, as well as a large, pricey store with Thai Silk Company products. If you're not interested in paying full price, there's a Jim Thompson outlet store not far from the Bang Chak BTS station. If you want the full, authentic Thai silk experience, you might want to consider running across the bridge to Baan Krua. I'm going to do that soon. I'll let you know what I see.

Here's one more photo from Jim's. I love lotus flowers.