Loy Krathong

A girl carries her krathong to the lake; a boy with his edible krathong; a variety of styles for sale. Last weekend, Thailand celebrated Loy Krathong. Loi krathong (ลอย กระทว) literally means “to float a basket,” and during the Loy Krathong festival, people make or purchase elaborate little baskets that they put into the river or lake while saying a prayer. Symbolically, when a person releases a krattong into the water, one also releases one’s problems and sins. The baskets are made from banana leaves and flowers or, for the more environmentally-conscious, fish food. Many Bangkok residents head down to…

Spirit houses 2

Spirit houses in their natural habitat. In my quest to find out where spirit houses come from, I started with a visit to the website of K.T. Spirit House (http://www.kt-spirithouse.com). Unfortunately, the store is located far outside Bangkok, and the proprietors didn’t answer my email. I considered heading out and taking my chances, but then I found a store in town that sells spirit houses, and the woman running it spoke English so I didn’t have to struggle with Thai to explain my interest. In response to my first question, she told me that hers are made from molded poured…

Let’s Learn Thai! – part 5, in which we learn more about the Thai alphabet (UPDATED)

At my request, my teacher began to teach me to read and write Thai (rather than rely on a phonetic system of writing in English characters). Be careful what you wish for, may you live in interesting times, all of that. It turns out that two of the reasons that Thai has so many consonants are that, for example, in addition to the aspirated consonants ด (“D” as in “dog”) and ท (“T” as in “Thai”), there is a “DT” sound, ต, which is its own letter. Some of the other consonants get similar treatments, for instance there is a…

Let’s Learn Thai! – part 4, an introduction to the alphabet

The dog was sick all morning, throwing up on the Persian rugs (due to a bad reaction to a pain medication we gave him for his arthritis), so I stayed home from Thai class and did a little self-study. My lessons don’t include reading and writing yet, but I want to get a jump on the topic. As it happens, when I learned we were going to Thailand last October, I bought a self-study book on Amazon which I used for three days before putting it away on the shelf. It made no sense to me at the time, but…

Spirit houses 1

Spirit houses, which one sees in front of many houses and businesses in Thailand, are the local version of the Greek proskinitaria that I documented in my book (copies of which, ahem, are still available). Unlike proskinitaria, however, spirit houses, or san pra phum, are intended to provide a home for spirits that could otherwise create trouble for the property owners if they are not cared for and given offerings of flowers or food. Although the Thais are predominantly Buddhist, their culture still reflects an earlier time when animism played an active role in people’s thinking. Hence, every place has spirits that need…

Muay Thai gym 2

The next gym I visited was located beneath an overpass near the National Stadium. This gym is named Poolsawat. The master is named Nan (uncle) Dam, and he was a fighter back in the day, and a local champion. As with Sit Chaansing, there are ten students (here, aged 8-20) that Nan Dam has selected to train, and the students don’t pay. Poolsawat is obviously better furnished than Sit Chaansing; the club is sponsored by a local Chinese-Thai businessman who wants to make his name as a philanthropist for young people. Nan Dam has been training students for 28 years,…

Let’s learn Thai! – part 3: sounds like “cow”

khâaw – rice khǎaw – white khàaw – news khaaw – the bad smell that comes from rotten fish or blood (seriously) khâw – enter khǎw – mountain kháw – he or she khàw – knee There’s also, with more of a “gk” sound, kǎw – slang term for skilled kàw – old kaw – to scratch This reminds me of the Ogden Nash poem: The one-l lama, He’s a priest. The two-l llama, He’s a beast. And I will bet A silk pajama There isn’t any Three-l lllama.

Muay Thai gym 1

On a recent photowalk, I came across a Muay Thai training gym tucked behind a small Chinese temple on the banks of the Chao Phraya river. Using my limited Thai, I was able to find out when they practiced, and I went back later that week to photograph the practice. The week after that, I returned with a translator so I could get a better idea of what I was seeing. The gym is called Sit Chaansing. It is named for the master, as coaches are referred to in Muay Thai, who trained the current Muay Thai master, Chanamet Tongsalay….