City Life

Very Observant

An interview with Very Thai author, Philip Cornwel-Smith, In Chiang Mai’s City Life magazine.

Exactly 25 years to the month since he first visited Chiang Mai, before settling in Bangkok, Philip was interviewed by City Life editor Pim Kemasinki, who did her first paid writing two decades ago for the magazine Philip was editing, Bangkok Metro.

“Thais are not allowed to have fun with traditions,” said Philip Cornwel-Smith, author of the wildly successful book on Thai popular culture, Very Thai, now in its 10th printing and second edition. “It is very difficult to go against the master template, so Thais have always got their novelty from bringing in things from the outside. Being very receptive to imports, Thais have fun with it. God forbid you have fun with traditions!’

Philip has a knack of saying something obvious, or seeing something interesting, that hadn’t been said nor seen before. Which is why his book, published in 2005 (and seen prominently displayed in every bookshop nationwide ever since), took the country by storm. Here was this Englishman showing us Thais an embarrassment of cultural riches that had previously gone unappreciated. It was discombobulating, inspiring, empowering and most of all sanuk.

Having studied word history at Sheffield University, where the focus was less on wars and nation building, and more on culture, invention, religion and other such factors that build and destroy nations, followed by years working for Time Out London, Philip had a solid background in looking at culture from different perspectives. Serendipitously, on a layover in Bangkok on the way back from Australia in 1994, he was asked to start Bangkok’s first city listings magazine, Bangkok Metro, which would a focus on popular culture.

“Within four days of being in Bangkok I found myself editor of a city mag which soon had 1,000 listings,” said Philip. “People were instantly shocked to learn of so much variety in the city. The transport problems in those days meant that it took two hours to travel from Ekamai to Lumpini, so most people didn’t venture far out of their five or six known areas. But when they saw in Metro how many things were going on, they began to venture further. The mag was all about pop culture. I was coming at it with outside eyes, but it didn’t take long to become a semi-insider. With my background, I had a view that popular culture is an attraction that people would travel for. Up to that point it wasn’t treated with the seriousness of formal culture; there was shame associated with street life that city-sophisticates were embarrassed by.”

As not just an observer, but an influencer of Bangkok’s pop culture, by the time Philip left Metro in 2002 he had begun to put down thoughts and ideas that would eventually come together in Very Thai.

“I’d become fascinated by then-obscure things such as the ecology of the streets,” Philip explained of how his book came about. “In Thailand so many things are to do with rice and monsoon cycles, and this explains so much about the people, especially the need for village communities to develop in a reciprocally helpful way. This value was brought to the streets of Bangkok with the mass migration of rural people into the city. The co-op ethic is vastly different from the formal bourgeois attitude of the urban people: open shop houses, street vendors looking after one another’s stalls and even kids, motorbike taxis being socially helpful by directing traffic, running after thieves and delivering packages. It is a reciprocal village value but in the big city, which gives Bangkok a warm charm you don’t get inside the malls.”

“I wrote the book thinking there would be a market amongst expats like me,” he continued. “But I was as surprised as anyone at the massive splash the book made. Immediately the biggest and most loyal fan base became the young Thai Indies in the creative industry. I have been told that the book was almost definitive for them; they had been aware of these things, but because pop culture wasn’t treated seriously, they weren’t legitimate topics to work with. Suddenly low culture was put into a high culture format — an illustrated hard cover book — it was like putting something lowly on a high-status plinth. It suddenly legitimised these things and opened them up for exploration.”

Very Thai asked questions and attempted to offer explanations for such random and obvious things as the Thai sniff-kiss, why Thais use those ubiquitous thin pink napkins, why motorbike taxis wear different coloured vests, and what’s up with all the neon lights?

“A lot of these things soon became cultural signifiers,” said Philip. “The idea that middle class Thais would go around taking photos of street vendor carts was absurd until the book came out. Today you have places like Plearnwan in Hua Hin which is a virtual theme park for such streetlife. What was interesting to me was that none of it was wholly traditional and none of it was modern. It was all hybrid. Look at the neo-classical architecture of shop houses, or the vehicles decked out in auspicious décor. Tuk tuks were originally Italian, then Japanese, but even though 34 countries around the world use the tuk tuk, they are very Thai. They used to have words such as Daihatsu on them, but after the 1997 crash they started having ‘Thailand’ emblazoned on the back with red, white and blue colours. If you really look at them, they are a short stubby vehicle, but with a real elegance, because they use ancient forms and lines of oxcarts and long tailed boats.

Thailand saw such great change between the end of the Second World War and the early 2000s. It wasn’t a slow cultural change; it was a deluge. This led to a lot of impromptu solutions to things. Especially with the low income people – they began to jury-rig things, and do a lot of improv. This led to a great amount of creativity. You can see this clearly when thinking of the Thai temple fairs. It is little known that they came about when Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, in the 1950s, promoted them as a way to bring modernity to rural villages. Technology, modern medicine, outdoor cinema propaganda, these were all introduced, as a national policy, through temple fairs. People would then localise them to their own tastes. I have noticed that there are a lot of taboos about updating traditions, but Thais have a natural sense of fun and creativity, so they played around with new and modern imports. It’s quite interesting to see how, whatever the authorities do, simply becomes less fun!”

From observing pop culture phenomena, Philip has just about turned into one himself, with fans of the book sometimes asking to take selfies with him. Very Thai has been subject of numerous artworks and exhibitions and Philip is a frequent guest lecturer at various universities. One designer wrote recently on Facebook, “The defining moments for me as a Thai designer, both in was the mid-2000s. were the discovery of the book Very Thai, and visiting the Isaan Retrospective exhibition at TCDC.”

Which brings us to why we have chosen now to interview Philip who, until the end of this month, will be co-curating a fascinating little exhibition at TCDC Chiang Mai called Invisible Things. Together with TCDC and the Goethe Institute Bangkok, Philip and exhibition designer Piboon Amornjiraporn put together a collection of 25 everyday items which ‘we take for granted and no longer perceive, but which in fact influence our consumer behaviour’, according to the exhibition’s booklet. The selection of Thai objects echo a collection of German objects on the other side of the room, curated by Martin Rendel, which are on a tour which started in China.

Displayed are packets of mama found in every single Thai household, the largely unnoticed dragon jars sitting in nearly every garden, the sin sai white strings used in a bewildering number of ways from house blessing ceremonies to greeting a guest, and the omnipresent fisherman pants which Philip describes as Thai to the core, “Many cultures have some kind of wrapping trousers,” explains Philip. “Yet it is known internationally as a Thai thing. I find it very Thai because it is extremely flexible and adaptable, infinitely expandable and practical. It represents Thainess internationally.”

“One classic example of an invisible thing is the red Fanta bottle. Interestingly Thais prefer drinking green Fanta, yet millions of red Fanta bottles are left open on alters, shrines and spirit houses nationwide. Next to flowers and incense they are probably the most common offering. There is no definitive explanation for this so I called my spirit medium friend — as you do in Thailand — and was told that the red represents blood which the low spirits, the demons, like. Other people say it’s simply because the bottles are sturdy and don’t blow over or that spirits want modern pop drinks too. Whatever the reason, they are found everywhere, even by the feet of the Yaksha giants at Suvarnaphumi Airport!”

Philip went on to offer a warning, however, that the era of localising imports into Thainess is nigh. “With modern communication you can get everything instantly. We are no longer a decade behind Milan in terms of fashion, because of YouTube. There is no delay in knowledge getting to Thailand. People want objects in their purest forms and they can both afford them and have them immediately — whether a Samsung tablet or a handbag. Every culture is a hybrid to some degree, but the whole world is facing unrelenting sameness. Because of the ability of digital technology, innovation isn’t happening as much in the physical form. It’s shifted into a different realm, one that’s not tactile. Whereas you used to improvise and create a hybrid, now you just get the thing you need to do the job. It’s samey everywhere. Invisible things are becoming visible.”

Invisible Things Exhibition
at TCDC Chiang Mai
Open 10.30am – 8pm
Tel. 081 833 4566
Until the end of February

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Tags: #Germany 

Saran Yen Panya

“The defining moment of design students like me was the mid 2000s. There are two: the discovery of the book Very Thai, and visiting to Isan Retrospective exhibition at TCDC. The upshot was: how to think and how to work as a Thai designer from that time onwards.”

– Saran Yen Panya, designer and director, 56th Studio

Writing on Facebook about his design for the exhibition ‘Look Isaan Now’ at TCDC Khon Kaen, 2018-19

 

 

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #book #design #exhibitions #popularculture  #Thailand 

Order Threatens Bangkok’s Charm

Very Thai author Philip Cornwel-Smith was interviewed about the crackdown on Bangkok street vending in this cover story of The Nation newspaper.

 

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/detail/national/30353985

 

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Tags: #Bangkok #culture #informal #interviews #newspaper #streetlife #vendors 

Rice/Potato

Very Thai is #1 in blog’s list of “10 Thailand Souvenirs that Don’t Suck”

The book Very Thai has been named by the blog Rice/Potato as the #1 item in a list of “10 Thailand Souvenirs that Don’t Suck’!

1: ‘Very Thai’ book

Ever wondered about the meaning of taxi talismans, the life of Bangkok’s ‘hi-so’ crowd, or why drinks are often served in plastic bags? Philip Cornwel-Smith’s Very Thai gives a fascinating insight into the colorful everyday life of Thailand’s residents and shines a light on aspects of everyday pop culture, Thai design, and ancient traditions. This book is essential for anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into contemporary Thai culture. A lot of ‘Ah, that’s why!’ moments guaranteed.

Where to find it:
Available at most branches of Asia Books. (THB 995,-)

10 Thailand souvenirs that don’t suck

 

 

 

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Tags: #blogs #book #endorsements #reviews 

Thailand Expat Writers List

by Paul Dorsey

Philip Cornwel-Smith and ‘Very Thai’ feature on this comprehensive Facebook list of all books about Thailand by expatriate authors.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/358162037876931/

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Tags: #academic #Bangkok #blogs #book #reviews #Thailand #website 

TalkTravelAsia Podcasts

Podcast about Very Thai

 

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‘Very Thai’ continues to spark media coverage. The latest is a podcast on TalkTravelAsia. The podcast is an interview with author Philip Cornwel-Smith by journalist Trevor Ranges and Scott Coates, who was co-founder of the bespoke travel agency Smiling Albino.

The podcast is available through the following channels:

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/talktravelasia/talk-travel-asia-episode-28-very-thai-with-philip-cornwel-smith

iTunes: https://soundcloud.com/talktravelasia/talk-travel-asia-episode-28-very-thai-with-philip-cornwel-smith

TalkTravelAsia website: http://talktravelasia.com/2015/07/15/episode-28-very-thailand-with-philip-cornwel-smith/

Twitter: @TalkTravelAsia

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Posted in: about the book, Blog, Events, Media,

Tags: #Bangkok #culture #interviews #podcast #Thailand #website 

Culture 360°

Bangkok creativity profile

A roundup of Bangkok’s art and creative scene, with one of the quotes from yours truly. Thanks for doing this David Fernández, we need more coverage for Bangkok’s arts to flourish. The article’s done for the Asia Europe Foundation, which could explain why the title sounds like bureaucratic filing system category: ‘By people / In cities: Bangkok | city profile’. File Bangkok under ‘Creative’.

http://culture360.asef.org/category/magazine/profiles/

By people : In cities | Bangkok | city profile | culture360.asef.org | culture360.asef.org

Culture 360 Creative Bkk slide

 

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Tags: #academic #art #BACC #Bangkok #culture #design #e-magazine #exhibitions #features #interviews #tcdc #website 

The Diplomat

Very Thai: Street, Style and Society in the Kingdom

How a book by a Bangkok-based British author came to embody a shift in Thai cultural consciousness.

By Jonathan DeHart

Thailand has faced a public relations crisis in recent months. The May 22 coup and the recent murder of two British tourists has cast a shadow over the sunny “Land of Smiles“ image of golden temples, graceful dances and saffron robed monks carrying alms bowls.

But neither political turmoil nor idealized cultural traditions reflect the reality of daily life as it is lived by ordinary Thai citizens. Discovering what really makes the nation tick was precisely the goal of veteran Bangkok-based British journalist Philip Cornwel-Smith when he set out to write his enlightening, encyclopedic and entertaining book, Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture, now in its second edition.

Drawing on a wealth of insight from experts on history, anthropology, sociology and design; and generously illustrated with colorful photographs taken by Cornwel-Smith and American photographer John Goss, the book examines everything from aesthetics to folk arts.

Most significantly, it does so without succumbing to clichés or dwelling on the seedier side of life in Thailand, as exaggerated by media and bar-girl fiction. “The aim of my book was specifically to avoid those sensationalist things and to focus on topics that didn’t get looked at seriously,” Cornwel-Smith told The Diplomat. “I wanted to give a refreshing look at Thailand, to explain ‘low status’ or ‘realistic’ aspects of Thai culture. Not wholly modern, not wholly traditional – these are the criteria for things in the book.”

While a book that shuns hackneyed ideas about the kingdom’s beguiling culture would unsurprisingly be of interest to foreigners, Very Thai struck a chord with the Thai public as well. In the years following the release of its first edition in 2004, the book came to symbolize a shift in Thai society, which was on the cusp of a cultural awakening.

“The book came out at a time when the popular culture just started to become legitimized within the broader culture,” Cornwel-Smith says. “It wasn’t counted as ‘culture’ until that point. Ideas of ‘righteousness’ and ‘prestige’ were part of the official culture. Street life didn’t really fit into that. But it’s unambiguously a form of culture.”

Indeed, street food stalls, motorcycle taxi drivers in multi-hued jackets, cats nibbling on fruit offerings at a shrine, a dog panting in the shade next to a pile of coconut shells, a jumble of power lines sagging above a man dozing on a concrete bench just a few feet from the road where hot pink taxis and tuk-tuks (auto-rickshaws) zip by – these are the common street vignettes that Very Thai accounts for, in impressive detail.

And while the book begins on the street, it goes on to explore all facets of life in Thailand. It is divided into five sections: Street, Personal, Ritual, Sanuk (“fun” in Thai), and Thainess. (It is notable that an entire section is devoted to fun.) The eclectic approach was a natural choice for Cornwel-Smith who says, “I had already been looking at the culture in a pixelated way…doing a city listings magazine and putting together Time Out Bangkok guide.”

Through this “pixelated” view, the book manages to explore the cultural soul of the nation by examining the minutia of daily life: food on sticks, taxi altars, temple fairs, ghost stories, soap operas, beauty pageants, energy drinks.

Other mysteries of the mundane that are explored include quirkily groomed “poodle bushes,” garishly decorated tuk-tuks and trucks, fairy lights, Greco-Roman building facades, the tiny pink napkins found on restaurant tables nationwide, and meticulously coiffed “hi-society” socialites who “actively seek face, invent face, even leverage borrowed face (by borrowing gems),” Cornwel-Smith writes. The book also offers insights on beliefs close to the heart of the nation, from ever-present royal family portraits and the astrological importance of colors to magic tattoos and fortune telling.

Some folk beliefs explored in the book – certain aspects of amulet culture, mediumship and shamanic practices to name a few – still carry a whiff of taboo. But attitudes around these topics are softening, at an alarming speed in some cases.

“The transition of popular culture being accepted within Thailand happened very quickly,” Cornwel-Smith says. An example can be seen in the way tattoos have achieved a higher degree of acceptance in society within a short period. “The social context around tattoos has really changed since the first edition of the book (launched in 2004),” Cornwel-Smith says. “Tattoos are now much more acceptable, partially due to Angelina Jolie getting one.”

Thanks to its diversity of topics, street cred, and striking design, Very Thai has “gone beyond its creators,” Cornwel- Smith says. “It became a source book for those working in design, products, events, theater, among other kinds of work.”

Yet, the book’s reach does not end with the creative class. “They at the cutting edge put it out into culture, which has gradually made it mainstream.”

In a testament to the explosion in soi culture’s popularity, it now forms the basis of a popular theme park, Ploen Wan, which opened in a resort town in recent years. Geared towards Thai visitors, Ploen Wan “includes things like local transportation, old barbershops, general stores, pharmacies…        ‘retro’ stuff,” Cornwel-Smith explains. This form of “retro heritage” even carries a widely known slang epithet now – “Thai Thai” – coined by Suveeranont, who points to Very Thai as an emblem of this sensibility.

Ploen Wan is a physical manifestation of the Thai Thai boom, but a wider following has formed around the book online, where fans are exploring its themes further. “The Internet is a major part of the national discussion around culture taking place in Thailand now,” Cornwel-Smith says.

The Very Thai website serves as a portal on the topic. It features a blog and streams social media postings that use the #verythai hashtag in Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. “These are posted not just by me but by fans of the book’s subject and aesthetic. These hashtags were actually started by fans of the book.”

In some cases, the book itself has been used as a cultural artifact, having appeared in several art exhibitions in Bangkok, Chiang mai, Brussels and Barcelona. It has also been turned into a video installation, formed the basis of a mime production and has even been physically performed with as a puppet on stage, Cornwel-Smith explains. “There are so many ways in which Very Thai has become a cultural phenomenon in its own right.”

How could a book exploring such simple aspects of a culture have such a far-reaching impact in such a short time? Suveeranont sums it up best He wrote in the afterword to the second edition of the book: “The reason is that it reflects a mood, appearing at a time when Thai society began to debate the nature of ‘Thainess’… Cornwel-Smith’s book thus operates at the much wider level of a phi meuang, or Zeitgeist – the ‘spirit of the age’… This book enabled Thais to appreciate that ‘very Thai’ things, which were seen as low-brow, had been part of Thainess all along.”

Very Thai — The Diplomat

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Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #book #e-magazine #features #interviews #popularculture #reviews #Thailand #website 

Fah Thai

Bangkok’s Evolving Pop Culture

Fah Thai is the inflight magazine of the boutique carrier Bangkok Airways. This feature appeared in its section called The guide: Thailand in the May/June 2014 issue.

FahThai_May_June_2014

A twenty-year veteran of Thailand, Philip Cornwel-Smith recently released the second edition of Very Thai, a celebration of Thai pop, retro, street and folk culture. The re-release covers the many cultural changes that have swept through Thailand since the first book hit store shelves to considerable success nearly a decade ago.

Through vivid photographs, sharply rendered illustrations and insightful observations, the author pinpoints some of the biggest changes he’s witnessed over the years. One of the most dramatic changes, Cornwel-Smith notes, is the way politics has come to infuse daily life in Thailand, from fashion to soap operas.

The new edition features more than 200 striking images and four original chapters, including a fascinating exploration of the rise and global popularity of the retro ‘Thai Thai’ culture. “Magical tattoos, herbal whisky, Morlam folk music and street food have evolved from low-status taboo into mainstream trends with export appeal,” the author says. What’s more, Cornwel-Smith notes, is that Thai pop culture itself, long dismissed by traditionalists as urban trivia, has acquired social legitimacy and is regularly celebrated int eh media, at museums and at galleries in Thailand and elsewhere.

Most intriguing is his in-depth exploration and explication of quirky Thai icons, historical events and traditions, including the Japanese motor-rickshaw’s transformation into the tuk-tuk, rock’s morphing into festive farm music, the colour-coding of weekdays, floral truck bolts, taxi altars and drinks in bags.

And yet it’s the youth of Thailand that continues to astound the author: “Thais have become the world’s leading users of social media, intensifying their culture of personal networks and relishing online freedom.”

 

Fah Thai is the Bangkok Airways inflight magazine

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Tags: #Bangkok #book #culture #design #features #international #magazine #tourism 

John Burdett: A Greater Sense of Thailand

Our Thailand Top Ten. Books specially selected by John Burdett

Very Thai – Philip Cornwel-Smith

ULtimate Library A GREATER SENSE OF THAILAND.doc 1ULtimate Library A GREATER SENSE OF THAILAND.doc 2

A colourful, entertaining and surprisingly well-researched work which explains exactly what you are seeing on the streets of Bangkok in a serious of short, pithy and informative chapters. For a visitor who wants to know more but does not have much time, this is the best choice I have come across.

— John Burdett, author of Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo.

 

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Tags: #book #reviews #website 

Business Insider

15 Books That Will Make You Want To Visit Thailand

List includes Very Thai.

Very This is among the 15 books rated must-reads by Business Insider

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/books-about-thailand-2014-1#very-thai-everyday-popular-culture-by-philip-cornwel-smith-with-photography-by-john-goss-15

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Tags: #book #endorsements #international #magazine #Thailand #tourism 

Lonely Planet Thailand

VT in Lonely Planet BKK

Recommended Cultural Readings

Posted in: Reviews, Uncategorized,

Tags: #book #guidebooks #reviews #tourism 

John Burdett (review)

(Thailand) Book Bag: Bangkok

http://www.travelcuriousoften.com/october11-book-bag.php

John Burdett’s gripping characterization set against Bangkok’s edgy, seductive cityscapes make his series a thriller in every sense of the word. John Burdett was originally a lawyer with practices in London and Hong Kong. He has lived in France, Spain, Hong Kong, and the U.K. but currently makes his home in both Bangkok and Southwest France.

One of John Burdett’s favorite books about Bangkok is: “very Thai by Philip Cornwel-Smith 
An entertaining and provocative look at Thai culture.”

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Tags: #book #endorsements #reviews #website 

Moon Guide to Thailand

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Recommended Reading: Culture

‘Explains lots of seemingly quirky Thai cultural behaviours, including the obsession with tiny napkins.’

— Suzanne Nam

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Tags: #book #guidebooks #reviews #tourism 

Bangkok Post (2nd ed review)

How Very Thai gave rise to ‘Thai Thai’

 

Long-standing commentator on the Kingdom’s eccentricities discusses the second edition of his book.

By Brian Curtin

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Which cultural idiosyncrasies stick when you visit a foreign country? And what value do you accord them? Slightly amusing or perhaps just annoying? Indicative of some deep-rooted essence of that culture or merely a weird aberration? A challenge to your own vocabulary or a means of extending it? And why do some idiosyncrasies persist while others disappear or transform?

Thailand has an abundance of cultural idiosyncrasies and Philip Cornwel-Smith, a dedicated follower of local mores, has been exploring such questions for nearly two decades. Philip was the original editor of the defunct and much missed Metro magazine and of Time Out Bangkok, and his Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture is a must-read for anyone hoping to unpick such local phenomena as sniff-kissing and the pervasive influence of “hi-so” communities for Thai social hierarchies.

Originally published in 2005, the book has been expanded into a second edition with four extra chapters, and much of the rewritten material addresses how social upheaval has affected daily life here. Please describe how your new chapters relate to major cultural and/or political shifts in Thailand since the first edition.

The period between the editions has seen unprecedented challenges to the exotic Thai cliche. The world now questions those smiles. One reason I wrote the book was to celebrate the non-exotic things that also shape Thai character.

I look at how the internet has gained a Thai flavour. Modernity and the consumer lifestyle used to be synonymous with Bangkok, but increasingly they apply to the urbanising provincial middle class, too. One thread in the book is to view social evolution through the tastes of each class as it came to prominence.

Politics inevitably impacts many topics, though often indirectly. The chapter on day colours [wearing clothes of a specific colour on a certain day of the week] was an obscure curiosity for most readers _ then, overnight, the yellowshirts made it topical. Motorcycle taxis went from a lowly street fixture to an icon of a rising class now courted by election posters. Looking at everyday phenomena reveals how this political division is not just about parties, protests and personalities, but the latest of many shifts in the history of Thainess.

You have called one new chapter “Vernacular design”.

One trait of Thai street-life are those ad hoc solutions to practical problems with found materials like old planks and bits of plastic. Middle-class people associated that with slums, but the trauma of the Great Flood of 2011 turned that ingenuity into a meme on Facebook and an exhibition at the Thailand Creative & Design Centre. It became respectable once residents of housing estates suddenly had to live like canal-side squatters. Now it’s a style that is being called “vernacular design”.

Please comment on the readers Very Thai has attracted and what feedback you’ve received about it.

I wrote the book to explain what isn’t explained to expats. But its most enthusiastic fans are young, indie Thais who are hungry for fresh ideas. It’s become a required book in universities so I have to satisfy academics, too.

Last year’s exhibition of Very Thai photos outside Zen [CentralWorld] gained it a mainstream audience, who see it more sentimentally as a record of retro things that are slowly fading. In one new chapter I discuss how Very Thai became a kind of handbook for a zeitgeist wave that has made popular culture an accepted aspect of Thainess labelled “Thai Thai”. The design guru Pracha Suveeranont has written an afterword [for the second edition] about the impact of the book on creative Thais. Popular culture is low-status, edgy and even taboo, so they find the book lends a kind of legitimacy. Also they use it as a style reference for all kinds of stuff _ advertising, design, event organising. Independent of me, the book has been an exhibit in several art shows and the subject of film, mime and theatre performances.

Please discuss any criticisms you have heard about Very Thai.

Older readers complained about the font size. So we increased it. There has been less criticism than expected about giving street-life a platform as culture. That was partly to do with timing, because society was just starting to accept street culture as a legit form of Thainess. Some nationalists claim that foreigners can’t understand Thainess, yet Buddhism insists that detachment is necessary to see things clearly. There’s a concept called emic and etic _ insider and outsider views. Each is valid, and I try to integrate both in an insider/outsider approach.

The appearance of Very Thai is very different to that of other books about Thailand on the shelves. Was that a conscious decision?

Most illustrated books on Thailand strive to be beautiful and so the scene is often set up or “prettied” beforehand. That’s part of myth-making about Thainess, so it creates expectations. Yet the photos in Very Thai deliberately show normal things as-found. That impromptu aesthetic has emerged internationally _ and the public connects with this book precisely because it rings true to their experience. One reader gave the book to a friend who had moved away as an album of the photos she didn’t think to take while living here. It’s about looking at familiar things with a new eye.

The new edition kept a similar look, because the cover’s become a bit of a brand, but over a third of the pictures are new to keep up with how fast Thai tastes change.

How does Very Thai relate to other English-language literature about Thailand?

Ever more books tackle the chaotic street-life, often through fiction by the likes of John Burdett or Lawrence Osborne. But too much writing about Thai ways has veered to Orientalist extremes, whether sensationalism about infamous scandals or the fawning exoticism found in tourist, sponsored or Establishment books. Actually there is an older literary genre of objective accounts by Chinese, French, British, American traders and adventurers. Thai literature tended not to dwell on “low” topics, and murals just depict; they don’t describe.

So much of what we know about past popular culture comes from foreign observations of the kind reprinted by [local publisher] White Lotus Press. So I aspire to that legacy of insider-outsider commentaries. I’m trying to write contemporary history, but it’ll be up to future readers to judge whether I caught the tenor of the times.

 

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #features #interviews #newspaper #reviews #Thailand 

The Nation (2nd ed review)

The Bangkok We Never Lost

Protesters and developers demand more, but these guides to the city and Thai culture encourage us to venture out and enjoy what we have

by Paul Dorsey

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With anger further fouling the city air and the streets a din of roars and whistles, this might not be the best time to be exploring the unknown alleys of Bangkok. But two terrific books that have just come out will have you dodging the slings and arrows of our unfortunate era to track down the history already written – as opposed to the kind that’s being written as you read this.

Kenneth Barrett’s “22 Walks in Bangkok” ranks as one of the most thorough guides yet to the city’s historically important areas – and the newly refurbished “Very Thai” can be its ideal companion in your travelling pack. The updated and extended second edition of Philip Cornwel-Smith’s popular and influential 2004 original is just as much a must-have resource, thanks to his encyclopaedic knowledge and charming explanations about all the sights and experiences you encounter in Thailand. Again, it’s replete with hundreds of great photos by John Goss, Cornwel-Smith and others.

Of course the current political demonstrations – anti-government and pro – have never come close to blanketing the metropolis. Barrett touches the fringes of a couple of hot spots, and both books allude in passing to Thaksin Shinawatra and his legacy, but there are still plenty of places free of discontent where you can poke around for evidence of Teochew civilisation (see Barrett) and perhaps a plastic bag of refreshing flavoured sugar-water with shaved ice (see Cornwel-Smith).

In fact the first few of the 22 Walks ramble through Thonburi, remote and relatively peaceful on the other side of the big water.

Barrett’s journey begins when Thonburi was anything but peaceful. Following the downfall of Ayutthaya’s King Narai in 1688, Siamese cannonballs hurled across the river to demolish the French fort he had allowed to be built in the swamp that grew up to be Bangkok. A century later Thonburi was Siam’s capital.

Three more centuries further on, you can still spot homes there that have four wooden pillars in the doorway – which can only be removed from the inside. That’s how the original Chinese immigrants “locked the door”, explains Barrett, a veteran journalist.

And completely hidden behind the Klong San District Office is a remnant of Pong Patchamit Fort, one of five that King Rama IV built to shield his capital from invaders. Still standing is a mast on which flags were once hoisted to indicate which trading vessels were present – and later to report the weather.

Not far away, down Soi Lat Ya 17, Barrett found a seven-metre-long stone sculpture of a Chinese boat called a yannawa perched among old timbered houses. With a bodhi tree as a mast, this is an ancient shrine recalling the arrival in Thailand of Buddhist monks from Japan and China.

One of the most intriguing of Bangkok’s many intriguing areas is Bang Krachao, the vast “pig’s stomach” of land around which the Chao Phraya River swirls, which continues to be a great green lung (to mix anatomical metaphors) despite covetous commercial intentions.

Barrett sets out from the Presbyterian Samray Church, a 1910 replacement for the 1862 original, chronicling the missionaries’ story as he goes, and then has a look for what’s left of venerable Chinese rice mills. He glimpses a gilded Captain Hook and David Beckham among the artwork at Wat Pariwat next to the Montien Riverside Hotel.

Just as interesting is the Mon community that since the fall of Ayutthaya has dominated this district, further down the Phra Pradaeng Peninsula. The Mon, fierce fighters in combat, came to man the forts that King Rama I built there.

To any Bangkok resident who’s never been there, it’s impossible to imagine, somewhere in among all this concrete, “a huge area of green countryside in which quiet villages snooze down peaceful lanes”. Barrett explores “orchards, jungle, mangrove swamps and hidden temples” – and with amusement comes across the more recently inaugurated Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market, a nod to tourists, but mainly Thai tourists.

“There is no police station. You will look hard to find an ATM … The modern city is only a ferryboat ride away, but there is no hurry to travel back across the water.”

In urban Thailand and in rural Thailand, you couldn’t have a better “dictionary” than “Very Thai”, and it’s easy to imagine Cornwel-Smith strolling alongside Barrett, quizzing the locals about what they’re up to. “I try to be the open-minded ‘flaneur’ – the wandering seeker of raw experience,” writes the chronically curious former editor of Bangkok Metro magazine.

“Very Thai” explains a great deal about amulets and magic tattoos, taxi altars, luk thung, beauty pageants, katoey life, ubiquitous uniforms, edible insects and the lore of the motorcycle-taxi stand. For farang, it’s magical in its own way – although, as Pracha Suveeranont, “an expert on visual culture”, points out in an afterword, the first edition of the book became a hit with Thais too, an aid in celebrating their culture for fun and profit.

But clearly it was badly in need of updating, Cornwel-Smith writes. Since 2004, Thai pop has “gone inter” and Apichatpong Weerasethakul triumphed at Cannes. Asean is about to blossom. We’ve got those plastic kitschy but undeniably purposeful hand-clappers and foot-clappers now (the whistles will have to wait for the next edition).

And virtually everyone in Thailand has “gone virtual”, not least the fashion-plate hero of Facebook, Mae Baan Mee Nuad (Housewife with a Moustache), who’s also featured here. The social media are rampant in Thailand. In 2012 there were more snapshots posted on Instagram from Suvarnabhumi Airport and Siam Paragon than from New York’s Times Square. “Digital media actually suit the Thai character,” the author says. “Local websites collide multiple diversions as discombobulating as their predecessor, the temple fair.”

Then, digging deeper, he adds, “The difference this new medium makes is that we can now see through the former taboos.” Cornwel-Smith displays a keen if subtle passion for the country’s politics, at least in the way it affects popular culture. In addressing the difficulties of nailing down the nature of Thainess, he says, “The recent politicisation of Thais at all social levels has made discussion more open, direct and heated. As censorship grows futile, we all now know so much more how this country works. The official version has lost its monopoly.”

In another informative chapter, on the rise of “Thai Thai” – which he calls “vernacular Thainess [with] a hint of both essence and exaggeration” – Cornwel-Smith tackles the vexing issue of Thai exceptionalism with his exquisite sense of balance. He cites the frequently heard insistence that foreigners can never fully understand Thai ways, and then demonstrates how “the accusation fires both ways”.

These two books serve to reassure readers, both Thai and farang, that there is nothing to fear, scorn or being ashamed about, in either stoic tradition – or in Bangkok’s immediate future.

GUIDE BOOKS

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture
By Philip Cornwel-Smith and John Goss
Published by River Books, Second Edition 2013
Available at Asia Books, Bt796

22 Walks in Bangkok: Exploring the City’s Historic Back Lanes and Byways
By Kenneth Barrett
Published by Tuttle / Periplus, 2013
Available at Asia Books, Bt396

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #Bangkok #newspaper #reviews #Thailand 

Where

Very Thai Second Edition Launched

Added by  on December 11, 2013

VT Where mag 2014-06-29http://wherethailand.com/thai-second-edition-launched/

Featuring fascinating explanations of various oddities from everyday Thai popular culture, from why the tissues on tables are pink to the apparent obsession with phallic objects on street stalls in Thailand, the first edition of Very Thai by Philip Cornwel-Smith has proved a real hit since its release in December 2004. Building on that success, the second edition delves even deeper with revamped chapters, extra pages and over 200 new photographs. It also includes four new chapters covering more recent developments such as the internet, the impact of the recent political crisis, the increasing cosmopolitan chic, and the hidden political context to changes in taste. It makes a great read for travelers to Thailand who want to get more from their visit and gain a better understanding of local culture.

B995, available at Asia Books.

www.verythai.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Tags: #book #e-magazine #magazine #reviews #Thailand #tourism 

LeCool Bangkok

LeInterview: Philip Cornwel-Smith – Writer, photographer and editor

by David Fernandez

LeCool intv 13-1029
www.lecool.com/Bangkok/en

I have been involved in some form of publishing since my schooldays. My life looks like a direct line towards where I am now, but it didn’t feel like that at the time. For two decades I have been covering popular culture here in Bangkok. First, it was editing Metro, Bangkok’s first city listings magazine, then writing and editing Time Out Bangkok, probably the first Bangkok guidebook to focus on engaging with the city more than just being a tourist.
Thai culture can be mystifying, and as a magazine editor I got asked about the everyday stuff that gets overlooked and never explained. So I wrote Very Thai as a compilation of answers that aims to describe ordinary Thai street culture. Eight years later I‘m launching an expanded 2nd edition. I felt obliged to rewrite it due to the constant social evolution of this country. (more…)

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Bangkok Guide (ANZWG)

The 19th edition of the famous expatriate guide by the Australia-New Zealand Women’s Group

Getting Settled: Learn about Thai culture

20140626-ANZWG Bangkok 19 Guide a

“Very Thai by Philip Cornwel-Smith is an excellent that helps to orientate the reader to everyday popular Thai culture; it is an insightful and intriguing read”

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Tags: #Bangkok #book #guidebooks #reviews 

Bangkok Post (Lawrence Osborne)

The Freedom of the City

Interview with Lawrence Osborne, author of ‘Bangkok Days’ and ‘the Wet & The Dry in Bangkok Post by Brian Curtin

VT BK Post intv LOsborne002 copy VT BK Post intv LOsborne001 copy

Q: Please discuss any writing on Bangkok that has been of particular interest to you.
‘Philip Cornwel-Smith is writing in a way that I like, with an electric eye for the streets. I liked the first novel of John Burdett’s series, Bangkok 8, which is filled with interesting observations. Christopher Moore is a good writer. I haven’t read most of the other noir guys. There is a wonderful aul Bowles story called ‘you have Left Your Lotus Pods on the Bus’, which I guess was written in the 1960s. He planned to live here, but never made it.’

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Tags: #Bangkok #endorsements #features #newspaper #reviews #Thailand 

Bangkok 101 (2nd Ed review)

The Return of Very Thai

It’s over seven years since Very Thai, an encyclopedic guide to everyday culture, reshaped the way outsiders look at Thailand’s colourful brand of the mundane.

Bangkok 101 Return of VT 2014-06-29 at 23.54.46 Bangkok 101 Return of VT 2014-06-29 at 23.55.09

http://www.bangkok101.com/the-return-of-very-thai-river-books/

From whisky drinking etiquette to the truth about pink tissues and the inspiration for Thai truck bolts (the flower petal), this was the book that revealed the hidden logic and structure in Thailand’s freewheeling street life. That became the go-to gift for expats looking to enlighten visiting loved ones. That turned long stints in the toilet into a crash course in Thai pop academia. That, above all, captured that elusive Very Thai-ness that even those of us who live here struggle to put our fingers on.

Now, hot on the heels of the spin-off exhibition, which runs until early December in front of Zen Department store, a new edition of the candy-hued best-seller is on its way. What can we expect? Sixty four more pages, for starters, says its author, long-time resident and cultural historian Philip Cornwel-Smith. “We wanted to increase the type font and the size, which was always a bit small,” he says speaking to us at Bangkok 101 HQ. “The book is also being translated into other languages, and German is a much longer language than English, so we’ve given most chapters an extra page.”

However, the new edition is not just more spacious and easier on the eye. Rather, it’s a top-to-bottom overhaul that, as well as featuring lots of new photographs, brings Very Thai kicking and screaming into the here and now, where it belongs. “This is a genuinely new edition,” he says, “I’ve not just added in little bits and pieces. In some cases I’ve had to completely rework the chapters or rewrite large chunks of them.”

Unmistakable in the original book was the sense that this is a society in rapid transition. “In one dizzying spasm,” he wrote, “Thailand is experiencing the forces that took a century to transform the West.” During our conversation, he cites the rise of digital media, a movement towards authentic tourism and a more intrusive tabloid media as just a few examples of the cultural shifts that have taken place since its release. “Also, some of the more folky adaptations of tradition are giving way to just plain modern things,” he says.

The new edition reflects these changes but not at the expense of the old case studies. “A lot of the research for the original was done at the turn of the millennium,” he says. “So that’s over a decade of change – of extraordinary change. I wanted to reflect that transformation in the book, not just simply change the data.”

He’s also opted not to lop out topics that are fading away or nearing obsolescence. Why? Because even they, Cornwel-Smith explains, have their usefulness, offer us a conduit, a prism through which modernisation and social change can be viewed.

For example, the chapter on pleng phua chiwit (Songs for Life), a socially-consciousfolk-music movement that now seems littlemore than a quaint reminder of the deeplypoliticised and bloody seventies, has beenkept in. “Now it’s a vehicle for talking aboutpolitical changes over the past seven years,”he says, “as like much of the country themovement got split between the red and theyellow shirts.”

For other topics, the only thing that has really changed is their social context. “Thai tattoos, for example, used to be something that was looked down on and a bit improper,” he says. “But it’s been ungraded in the public perception… nowadays every second celebrity has a haa taew tattoo on her shoulder and the pronouncements are about foreigners who don’t understand traditional Thai heritage getting them.”

Changes in public perceptions of the motorcycle taxi driver are another phenomenon he singles out (“they have become a bit like the tuk-tuk – cultural emblems, safe for public consumption”). So, too, is Thailand’s beach culture, which has changed so radically that he now sees the chapter on it as a “barometer of social change”.

As well as tracing all these and many other cultural shifts, the new edition also includes an afterword by Thai visual culture pundit Pracha Suweeranont. “In the first edition we didn’t have one because there wasn’t really a question to be answered. But having looked at it over a long time, I can see certain traits and trends.” In it, Suweeranont apparently explains how Very Thai helped him, a native, look at vernacular culture in a fresh way.

During our meeting, Cornwel-Smith touches on many subjects: over-reaction to moral panics by the Ministry of Culture (“I think there is a legitimate concern that some things might be swept away in a rush to modernity”); the flattening effect of digital technology; the explosion of interest in street food. But one theme overarches them all: change.

This begs a question: has Thailand’s breakneck development washed away any of the grittiness, the allure that first led him to start writing about the place? “Short answer: yes,” he says. But he, a trained historian, also calls for long-range perspective. “I’m sure people would have given the same answer when all this western stuff was brought in by the aristocracy a hundred years ago: those awful, mutton-sleeved blouses, etc.”

“When I first released the book back in 2005, somebody said “You do realise that all this stuff will disappear? However, we shouldn’t forget that a lot of the things that we take as being traditional Thai are actually imports from other countries in the past – that Thailand has a way of making modern things its own.” In other words, the topics may transform, but the Kingdom’s ability to assimilate foreign influence in a unique and curious way – that elusive Very Thai-ness – is here to stay.

The new edition of Very Thai will be published in early December by River Books. Meanwhile, the exhibition continues in front of Zen Department Store until December 6.

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #Bangkok #book #culture #e-magazine #magazine #reviews #Thailand #tourism 

Voice TV (Thai)

เวรี่ไทย (Very Thai)

by Bundit Thienrat บัณฑิต เทียนรัตน์

 

เกือบห้าปีที่ไม่ได้อยู่เมืองไทย ทำให้ผมเริ่มจำไม่ได้ว่า ถ.ศรีนครินทร์อยู่ที่ไหนหว่า???



นอกจากนั้นผมยังงงๆว่า หกช่องฟรีทีวีมันหายไปไหนสองช่อง กลายเป็นอะไรเอ็นๆพีๆบีๆอะไรวะเนี่ย? แล้วรถเมล์รถตู้ทำไมมันถึงได้วิ่งแข่งกันอย่างนั้น? เอ แล้วเค้าไม่มี time table กันเหรอ? แล้วผมจะจัดเวลาการเดินทางยังไงกัน!!!


ครับ ผมดัดจริตไปแล้ว


ผมไม่ได้เป็นคุณชายมาจากไหน เดินทางไปทั่วกรุงเทพฯก็ยังต้องใช้บริการขนส่งมวลชน กินข้าวกินปลาก็ยังต้องพึ่งพาตลาดร้านรวง เดินห้างหรือดีพาร์ทเมนท์สโตร์ใหญ่ๆชื่อฝาหรั่งที่ผุดขึ้นมาเต็มบ้านเต็มเมือง ผมต้องกลายมาเป็นคนกรุงเทพฯส่วนใหญ่ ที่ไม่ใช่อภิสิทธิ์ชน หรือซีเล็บหรูแฝ่ ที่แทบไม่รู้ด้วยซ้ำว่ากรุงเทพฯนั้นอากาศร้อน!


ผมจึงถูกสปอยล์โดยไม่รู้ตัวจากออสเตรเลีย (more…)

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Tags: #book  #reviews #Thai language 

Footprint guide to Thailand

VT Footprint review

“Brilliant excavation of the intricacies of Thai popular culture rendered in a chatty, down to earth style. Some nice photography as well.”

— Andrew Spooner

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #book #guidebooks #international #reviews #tourism 

Nancy Chandler Map of Bangkok

Recommended Reading for All Newcomers

By Nima Chandler

Nancy Chandler map review

http://www.nancychandler.net/move.asp
No other author has delved so deeply into the subconscious of Thai popular culture in such an intriguing, eye-opening way. You’ll love the insights gained from reading this best-seller. Fairy lights, streetside shrubbery, and hair dos you may have seen every day but never noticed will take on new meaning. Learn why most Thai noodle shops offer the same pink colored tissues, why cats’ tails seem to be bent or at best stunted, and what is the Thai sniff kiss. Wonderful photography too!

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #Bangkok #book #maps #reviews #tourism 

Siam Voices, Asian Correspondent

Thai Culture Ministry to crack down on religious tattoos on foreign skin

By Saksith Saiyasombut

http://asiancorrespondent.com/56307/thailands-culture-ministry-to-crackdown-on-religious-tattoos-on-foreign-skin/
Tattoos have a very special place in Thailand. They’re more than just permanent fashion statements, not unlike amulets they are regarded as spiritual guardians. Tattoos with religious or spiritual motives, called Yantra tattoos, are yet another sign that Thais take their beliefs skin-deep. Philip Cornwel-Smith dedicated a whole chapter in his excellent book Very Thai.

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #blogs #features #reviews 

Kit: Creative Thailand

Sukjai Keu Thai Tae (Happiness is the True Thainess)

by Patcharin Pattanaboonpaiboon

TCDC Kit VT intv 101201001 sml TCDC Kit VT intv 101201002 sml
Kit is the magazine of TCDC (Thailand Creative & Design Centre), Thailand

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #book #culture #design #interviews #magazine #tcdc #Thai language #Thailand 

Feel Goood

I Love Thailand

DTAC FeelGoood VT intv001 sml DTAC FeelGoood VT intv003 sml

Feel Goood is the subscriber magazine of DTAC Telecom, Thailand

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #interviews #magazine #Thai language #Thailand 

Way Magazine (Thai)

So You Think You’re Farang?

By Aphiradee Meedet

 

VT Way Thainess issue smlVT Way Thainess intv1 copy

A ten-page interview with Philip Cornwel-Smith about Very Thai in an issue themed around changing Thai identity. Open PDF link for full feature.

Way magazine 36 intv sml

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Tags: #book #features #interviews #Thai language #Thailand 

Chiang Mai Chronicle

Pink tissues; the burning issues that affect expats

By Heather Allens

A recent slightly messy lunch caused me to stop and ponder the ubiquitous little pink tissues that dot every Thai restaurant and some farang ones too. Why so tiny? Why so pink? My sister came to visit and said she think Thai people have paper products issues, from the little pink tissues to the lack of toilet paper. I had to laugh but then, when trying to wipe my messy hands and needing about a dozen or so to do so, I thought perhaps she wasn’t so far off the mark after all.

A really interesting book that professes to cover all these burning issues (and more!) is called Very Thai by Philip Cornwel-Smith. The book has been around for a few years, and, assuming he’s got his research right, is an invaluable resource for those people who find the little things in life in Thailand so interesting. If the questions of why the big hair for weddings, beauty pageants and Khunyings, why the sniff kiss, and why does everybody have a nickname keep you awake at night then you really need to read this book. (more…)

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Tags: #Lanna #magazine #reviews 

The Independent (feature)

Bangkok: Real Thai tranquillity

Escape the heat and noise of Bangkok with a trip around the city’s green hideaways, says Andrew Spooner

 

It’s early on a bright tropical Thai Sunday morning and I‘m standing at what many Thais consider to be the centre of Bangkok: Victory Monument. It is here – where a dramatic single-pronged monument rises out of the swirling cacophony of buses, tuk-tuks, mini-vans, noodle stalls and thousands of rushing Thais – that Bangkok reaches its fierce crescendo.

Even during the so-called winter season – which runs from now until March, with temperatures averaging 26C – Bangkok’s sensory overload of noise, rush and heat can be unbearable. Burning concrete, brain-melting humidity and the constant fumes of traffic coagulate into one long exhausting throb. So what do visitors do when the Thai capital overwhelms? Most take the easy way out, get back to their hotel rooms and switch on the air conditioning. (more…)

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Tags: #Bangkok #features #international #interviews 

TTO (Traversing The Orient)

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Computer Arts

Thai Colour

Interview with Philip Cornwel-Smith

VT Computer Arts intv PCS a 1290 copyVT Computer Arts intv PCS b 1289

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #culture #design #interviews #magazine #Thai language #Thailand 

Asian Wall Street Journal (interview)

A Hidden Oasis in Bangkok

Amid urban bustle, a lush compound offers gardens, traditional architecture

By Stan Sesser

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 16.42.27 Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 16.42.39 Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 16.46.10
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB123810984499552801

Buried in the fashionable Sukhumvit district of this bustling city, amid the high-rise buildings, bumper-to-bumper traffic and pulsating nightlife, sit 1.5 acres from an earlier era.

Wood and stone paths lead over a big pond and through a virtual jungle of ferns, trees and orchids. Surrounded by ponds and gardens are nine hardwood houses, some on stilts, all bearing the soaring peaked roofs and extensive wooden decks that are Thailand’s cultural signature. With their impeccably polished dark wood, the houses look as if they’ve sprouted from the ground.

They’re also very rare. Commonplace a few decades ago, these contemplative, lushly landscaped plots of land that once housed the city’s elite have all but disappeared, replaced with sleek high-rises so upscale a couple of them offer a swimming pool for each unit. An official of the Siam Society, which keeps tabs on Thai history and culture, says the only other compound he knew of in the Sukhumvit district was recently sold and torn down after its owner died. (more…)

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Tags: #Bangkok #culture #international #newspaper 

Bangkok Post (interview)

Very Thai

Philip Cornwel-Smith proposes a fresher, interesting view on the everyday complexities of life, and how Thailand is full of them

By Krittiya Wongtavavimarn, Photo by Yingyong Un-Anongrak

VT BkPost intv4VT BkPost intv5VT BkPost intv6

Philip Cornwel-Smith is obsessed with details. A man of boundless energy and great curiosity, the 43-year-old British is a meticulous, a perfectionist who is incredibly careful about his work, and his keen eyes always see things beyond the obvious – things that are very… very Thai.

While culture normally is a term associated with refined arts and national prestige, Cornwel-Smith looks for ordinary things representing hybrids between Thai tradition and modernity. The Bangkok-based writer took seven years gathering over a hundred casual, everyday expressions of Thainess, and presented them in a practical, easy to read and well-illustrated book of 60 chapters entitled Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture. (more…)

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #features #interviews #newspaper #Thailand 

National Geographic Traveller

Places of a Lifetime

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/places/places-of-a-lifetime/bangkok-books.html

A must-have for anyone interested in scratching beneath the surface of modern Thai culture and its origins. For almost every question about modern Bangkok, the answer is here.

 

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #book #international #magazine #reviews #tourism 

Oom Magazine

Very Thai issue cover story

by Siriyakorn Pukkavesa

www.ooommagazine.com/issue025/index.html

Oom intv 08-04 cover001 smloom web cover

 

Oom is a Thai-language lifestyle magazine. For the full article open the PDF file below:

Oom Very Thai issue 08-04 sml

 

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #Bangkok #features #interviews #magazine #Thai language #website 

Wisata Thailand (Indonesia)

Very Thai by Philip Cornwel-Smith

http://www.wisatathailand.com/media.htm Apa itu amulet? Mengapa penduduk Thai mengucap salam dengan mengatupkan tangan?
Jika Anda tertarik dengan budaya Thailand, bacalah buku mengenai kebiasaan penduduk Thai ini, ada yang unik, menarik, lucu, bahkan mirip dengan kita! 
Tersedia di toko buku Aksara, Times dan QB

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Tags: #Indonesia #reviews 

Travel Happy

Thailand Writers:
Phil Cornwel-Smith, author of Very Thai

BY  on 28 April 2008

TRAVEL HAPPY INTV 2014-06-29 at 23.59.42 TRAVEL HAPPY INTV 2014-06-29 at 23.59.52 TRAVEL HAPPY INTV 2014-06-30 at 00.00.07

http://travelhappy.info/thailand/thailand-writers-phil-cornwel-smith-author-of-very-thai-everyday-popular-culture/

In the first of Travelhappy’s Thailand Writers series, Philip Cornwel-Smith, author of the bestselling Very Thai, a guide to understanding everyday street life in Thailand, describes why he loves the Land of Smiles

 

Name
Philip Cornwel-Smith

Age
42

Nationality
British

Time in Thailand
14 years

What brought you here?
A backpacker bored with touring, I studied meditation and massage before staying in Bangkok with an ex-Time Out pal. Within four days, I was hired as founding editor of Bangkok’s first city magazine, Metro. A typical Thai tale of reinvention.

What do you most love about the place?
Unpredictability. Flexibility. Vibrant streetlife. General pleasantness. Tolerant acceptance of human nature.

Where do you live in Thailand? Why did you choose to live there?
At a house opposite where I first stayed, in a close-knit central soi dubbed Sesame Street, though it can evoke Melrose Place.


Phil Cornwel-Smith

What irks you?
Obstacles to people flourishing: impunity, censorship, monopolies, philistinism, the education system.

Thailand is the Land of Smiles. Discuss.
The plural doesn’t mean uniform happiness; there are different smiles for every emotion and motive. To learn Italian you begin with gestures; here you must learn how to smile.

Cultural recommendations (ie getting over culture shock)
Learn how to smile.

Explain the passion and idea behind your latest book in 100 words
Exoticised presentations of Thai culture ill-prepare visitors for reality. Thai streetlife fascinates, but goes mostly unexplained. In ‘Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture’ I identified patterns amid the chaos, investigating things like grooming and ghosts, blind bands and truck art, which intrigue outsiders, and which Thais often overlook as familiar or déclassé. Happily I hit a zeitgeist. Thais increasingly find inspiration from street culture as they develop a new pop aesthetic in movies, advertising, design. ‘Very Thai’ captures a transitional phase when traditions still affect how Thais express modernity. My next book spotlights the emergent creative culture.
Buy from Amazon
Very Thai – Philip Cornwel-Smith

Buy from Amazon.co.uk Buy from Amazon.com

See all books by Philip Cornwel-Smith at
Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com


Favourite hangout
A circuit of places depending on people, event or scene.

Favourite bar
Any indy bar with mis-matched furniture.

Favourite restaurant
Many. Frequent standby: Greyhound Café.

Favourite Thai getaway
Koh Samet, and festivals in Isan or Lanna.

Favourite Thai meal
Spiced herbal soups like tom yum or tom khlong, crab fried rice, stir-fried bitter gourd vines, grilled squid with seafood sauce, char-grilled pork dipped in jaew, and any laab with aromatic leaves.

Hidden gem
Community events unpublicised in English. Serendipity or sleuthing required.

Books published
Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture (2005).
Time Out Bangkok guidebook (3 edns).

Travel Happy is a travel website

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #book #culture #e-magazine #international #interviews #Thailand #tourism 

Frommers: Thailand

Books on Thailand

By Ron Emmons

‘For help in understanding what the heck is going on around you in Thailand, pick up Philip Cornwel-Smith’s Very Thai, it’s a bit obvious in parts but does make for colourful an fun entertainment (don’t expect any deep intellectual insights). It will, however, explain some peculiar habits of the host country.’

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #guidebooks #reviews #Thailand 

AFP (feature)

Thai tuk-tuks go global

by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson

http://travel.iafrica.com/bulletinboard/349052.htm

London has its black cabs, Venice its gondolas, and Bangkok its tuk-tuks, but Thailand’s iconic three-wheeled taxis are going global as foreigners scramble to pick up a piece of Thai culture.

The smoke-belching motorised rickshaws can now be seen plying Britain’s seaside towns, Canada’s golf courses and Tokyo’s neon-lit streets, and manufacturers have seen a surge in global sales and recognition.

“Japan they have Toyota, they have Nissan, so Thailand has a car also — a tuk-tuk,” says Anuwat Yuteeraprapa, owner of Expertise, a tuk-tuk manufacturer which exports 95 percent of its vehicles abroad. (more…)

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #culture #features #international #newspaper 

Bangkok Recorder

Recorder Read: ‘Very Thai – Everyday Popular Culture’

by Laurie Osborne

Bangkokrecorder Urban Magazine VT a Bangkokrecorder Urban Magazine VT b Bangkokrecorder Urban Magazine VT c Bangkokrecorder Urban Magazine VT d

Bangkokrecorder Urban Magazine VT sml

Forget Lonely Planet, Very Thai – Everyday Popular Culture takes readers on a far more in-depth foray into Thai culture, one you won’t see on the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s website.

This Technicolored book is packed with explanations of modern-day phenomena, ranging from the everyday to the cosmic. For foreigners, it answers a thousand puzzling curiosities, from why tangled webs of electrical wire are proudly displayed as symbols of modernity to how whisky tables reinforce social hierarchy. Thai people themselves seem to have a more bemused attitude to Very Thai, delighted that such recognizable objects are the subject of a best-seller.

Before casting cynicism over the English author of a book called Very Thai, consider the detached and non-judgmental approach the writer, Philip Cornwel-Smith, has adopted in presenting popular Thai culture. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see value in the simple things. 

What better perspective than a 12-year resident of Bangkok and founding editor of Metro magazine? We sat down with the British-born Philip to discuss sex, tattoos and rock ‘n roll… 

 (more…)

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #Bangkok #e-magazine #features #interviews #reviews #website 

Lonely Planet Italia

Bangkok: Informazioni

Finalmente le risposte a tutte le vostre domande riguardanti la Thailandia: perchè i taxi a bordo hanno piccoli santuari, perchè vengono annodati pezzi di tessuto intorno agli alberi.
saggistica.

www.lonelyplanetitalia.it/destinazioni/asia/thailandia/bangkok/informazioni/

Posted in: Reviews, Uncategorized,

Tags: #book #guidebooks #international #Italian #reviews #tourism 

AFP (interview)

Thai water festival washes away political turmoil

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/thailandpolitics
BANGKOK (AFP) – A little more than a week ago, Bangkok was at a standstill caused by daily political rallies. But judging by the crowds snaking through the Thai capital during the Songkran water festival, nothing could now be further from most people’s minds.
Bangkok seems to have effortlessly shifted gear from the political protests that forced out Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra into celebratory mood, with tens of thousands of people armed with water pistols taking to the streets for this year’s festival.
Songkran, which commemorates the Buddhist New Year, is traditionally a time of renewal and involves pouring water over shrines and other people as a sign of cleansing.
But recently the festival has become a free-for-all water fight, when total strangers douse each other with water and spread white paste on their faces. For three days in Bangkok, people take to the streets armed with water pistols. (more…)

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Tags: #culture #international #interviews #newspaper #Thailand 

Conde Nast Traveller

Thai High

Bouncing back post-tsunami, Thailand is on a roll, with a booming economy, a flourishing arts scene, and an efficiently cosmopolitan capital. Giddy from cleaner air and new transport, Jamie James gets a contact high from Bangkok’s worldly buzz

By Jamie James

Thai High _ Condé Nast Traveler 1 Thai High _ Condé Nast Traveler 2

http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/articles/detail?articleId=10233&pageNumber=1

Razzle-dazzle: At Sirocco, dine alfresco on the sixty-third floor of Bangkok’s second-tallest building, the State Tower, where Mediterranean cuisine and live jazz compete with glittering city views
Bangkok is one of the most heterogeneous, if not miscellaneous, cities in the world. Wandering down Sukhumvit Road, a main thoroughfare, in one block I passed a Kashmiri restaurant, a camping-gear shop, a diamond merchant, and a passel of friendly girls in red high heels in front of Pedro’s Bar before arriving at my destination, the California Wow Xperience, a popular exercise club. At the entrance, speakers aimed at the street keened and thudded with techno music. Directly underneath, two old women sat on camp stools, peddling lottery tickets and Buddhist amulets, while behind them a little girl sprawled on the sidewalk doing her English homework under a banner advertising a two-for-one membership promotion. (more…)

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Tags: #features #international #magazine #Thailand #tourism 

The Independent (review)

Pick of the Picture Books: Very Thai

Once the playground of the rich or the hip, Thailand has staked a central claim in the British heart and stomach. Nearly every pub in England now offers chicken with lemongrass, not baskets, and Thai beaches have become – at least until the tragic events of last Christmas – the new Costa Brava. For most of us, however, our knowledge of the country is limited to temples, markets and luscious ladyboys. Very Thai (River Books, £16.95) is an attempt to capture the complex realities of Thai culture, a blend of finesse and fun which fuses folk tradition with hi-tech and bling. “In one dizzying spasm,” says author Philip Cornwel-Smith, “Thailand is experiencing the forces that took a century to transform the West.” Here are fascinating glimpses of high life, low life, street life and, er, Honda life (right).”

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #book #international #newspaper #reviews 

Historical Dictionary of Thailand

By Gerald W Fry, Gayla S. Nieminen, Harold E. Smith

In terms of popular culture, important in a society that emphasizes the enjoyment of life, Philip Cornwell-Smith’s Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture (2006) is a delightful read and a wonderful roadmap to diverse elements of Thai Popular Culture.
http://books.google.co.th/books?id=XaRtAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA520&lpg=PA520&dq=%22very+thai%22+book&source=bl&ots=wDY4DEHw1E&sig=NQtSLoRT4QOldYmEGHirG6v7g50&hl=en&sa=X&ei=BYKYUo7gA8HkiAfEp4D4Bw&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22very%20thai%22%20book&f=false

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #book #international #reviews #website 

Japan Times, Donald Richie (Top 3 Books)

TOP 3 BOOKS OF 2005: What did you read about Asia this year?

VERY THAI by Philip Cornwel-Smith and John Goss (River Books)

By Donald Richie

This is a brilliant book-length photo-essay on Thai popular culture that gives hundreds of examples of the Thai way of doing things. As Alex Kerr says in his preface, this culture “seems an informal, free-wheeling place, even at times chaotic. But the more time you spend here, the more you realize that there is an internal logic and symbolism invisibly ordering everything.

 

Donald Richie was an authority on Japanese film and culture and Asian culture, lived partly in Chiang Mai, and is the late author of The Image Factory, The Inland Sea, and  Tokyo: A View of the City

 

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Tags: #book #culture #international #Japan #newspaper #reviews 

Natalie Bennett: Philobiblon

Book Review: Very Thai – Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith

 By Natalie Bennett (now leader of the UK Green Party)

 

VT Natalie Bennett Philobiblon a VT Natalie Bennett Philobiblon b

View as PDF: http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/12/11/135518.php

New arrivals in Bangkok are easy to spot; after a day or two in the city they’ve got a dazed, bemused look, and move slowly, hesitantly. This Bangkokitis is an extreme form of the culture shock that many tourists experience in foreign lands.

There are two factors that make it particularly acute in the Thai capital. First, so much of the environment seems familiar – glass-and-steel office blocks, modern cars, familiar fast food restaurants. Yet it is also so foreign. Underneath the office blog might stand a baby elephant, its owner begging for funds. Amidst the modern cars zip scores of death-defying motorcycle taxis, their riders’ bright jackets clashing with the mini-skirts of the high-heel-shod women perched precariously side-saddle behind them. Then they’ll be the shrine on the corner thronged with fortune-tellers.

Bangkok is where east meets west, modern meets traditional, the past meets the future. And while often they’ll stand in stark opposition, they’ll also blend to produce astonishing new hybrids.

The visitor who seeks easy answers might turn to a guidebook, and for some of the more obvious sights get a sentence of two of explanation. Or they might turn to a scholarly historical study, explaining temples and sculptures. But Philip Cornwel-Smith’s Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture is the first book that I know of to try to explain Thailand as it is today.

This is a prodigiously illustrated (by the photographer John Goss) text, accessible, but informative enough that even people who’ve lived in Thailand for decades will find plenty they didn’t know.
Of course I was aware, having lived in Thailand for almost five years, that trucks were usually heavily decorated, particularly in their upper parts. But I didn’t know that these works were designed to placate the journey spirit, Mae Yanang, or that each cab represented the sacred Mount Meru. The frequent inclusion of Western film stars in these images in no way interferes with this.

But it might take the first-time visitor a while to notice these, being too distracted by more disconcerting sights, such as the kathoeys (lady-boys) who can be seen at work and play around the capital without the locals batting an eyelid. (I used to live in the African rag-trade district of Bangkok, Pratunam. A kathoey was an otherwise entirely ordinary staff member on one of the stalls. When Africa met Asia at work, there was frequently some cultural confusion.)

Cornwel-Smith explains the understanding of gender and sexuality – so different from the West’s – that underlies the phenomenon:

Thais make a distinction between gender – a public identity to be kept riab roi (proper) – and sexuality, which remains undiscussed, unrestrained. Thai society tends to regard sexual urges – at least for males – as natural and requiring plentiful, but private outlets. Hence polygamy, once banned, resurfaced through minor wives and the fancifully themed playgrounds of the sex industry. With women’s virginity still a commodity to be guarded, kathoey have offered a non-disruptive outlet for single males.”

This acceptance has helped to encourage Thailand as a destination for medical tourism of a specific king – gender-reassignment surgery. Up to 1,000 operations are thought to have been done on foreigners each year. And many kathoeys have taken up the practice.

Yet after centuries of a place in Thai society, new conflicts have emerged. Following the recent morality crackdown by the Shinawatra government, the rights of kathoeys have become a political issue, Cornwel-Smith reports, quoting Thanyaporn Anyasri, 2002 “Miss Queen of the Universe”, who said: “I want to be the world’s first transexual prime minister so I can legislate laws that promote homosexual people’s equality.” He then quotes a representative of a Buddhist foundation saying that since every person has gone through innumerable reincarnations they are likely to be kathoeys at some point in the future, so should think about equality now.

After contemplating all of that, the first-time visitor might need a drink and a nice meal. If they’re very brave, that might include the “prawns of the air” (grasshoppers), deep-fried whole and sold from street stalls, and some Red Bull – one of the few Thai traditions to really make it big inter (internationally). Cornwel-Smith will explain too why there might be tiny pink tissues on table, and for afters a pudding so sweet it will set your teeth on edge.

Many more aspects of Bangkok, from the skin-tight police uniforms (the government was keeping up with Western fashion in the Sixties, but then got left behind) to the numbers of dogs roaming the streets. There are also sections on Thai music, festivals, decor, gardens and much more.

If you’re the sort of visitor to Thailand who just wants to swan down Khao San Road and then lie on the beaches, you won’t need to buy Very Thai. But if you want some great stories to tell about the country – not just accounts of what you’ve seen but explanations for the curiosities and complexities – then this is an essential book.

Declaration of interest: The author used to commission writing from me when he was editor of Metro (then Thailand’s answer to Time Out) and I was a writer there. Online from that time I have an article about Khunying Supatra Masdit (billed by some as most-likely to be Thailand’s first female prime minister) and a piece about the Maldives. They’re not the paradise you think.

 

This review was also published at Blogcriticshttp://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/12/11/135518.php

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #blogs #culture #gay #international #reviews 

Blogcritics

Book Review: Very Thai – Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith

By Natalie Bennett (now leader of the UK Green Party)

http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/12/11/135518.php

New arrivals in Bangkok are easy to spot; after a day or two in the city they’ve got a dazed, bemused look, and move slowly, hesitantly. This Bangkokitis is an extreme form of the culture shock that many tourists experience in foreign lands.

There are two factors that make it particularly acute in the Thai capital. First, so much of the environment seems familiar – glass-and-steel office blocks, modern cars, familiar fast food restaurants. Yet it is also so foreign. Underneath the office blog might stand a baby elephant, its owner begging for funds. Amidst the modern cars zip scores of death-defying motorcycle taxis, their riders’ bright jackets clashing with the mini-skirts of the high-heel-shod women perched precariously side-saddle behind them. Then they’ll be the shrine on the corner thronged with fortune-tellers. (more…)

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags:

TAT Newsroom (Tourism Authority of Thailand)

Indie Bangkok

Books on Thai traditional arts and culture Thai fill the shop shelves, but the everyday aspects of modern Thai life that so beguile visitors go largely unsung and unexplained, until now.

1 Dec, 2005
www.tatnews.org

 

In the new book Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture, Philip Cornwel-Smith explores the pop things that people encounter in the street, in vehicles, in homes. He devotes whole chapters to such minutiae as buffalo cart furniture, auspiciously decorated trucks, and the Siamese delight in cute miniature objects.

These incidental things might not be the icons of high culture, but are every bit as authentic and immediately tell you you’re in Thailand. There is more to Thai pop than the tuk-tuk, though the book also reveals the unexpected origins of that symbolic vehicle. (more…)

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #e-magazine #features #reviews #Thailand #tourism #website 

Thai Day (feature)

The Man Who Knows Everything

by Nicholas Grossman

Thai Day VT intv rev 05-001 copy
VT Thai Day article 2856 crop

Thai Day was an English-language Thai newspaper

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #book #interviews #newspaper #reviews #Thailand 

Thai Day (talk preview)

Highlights

Thai Day VT talk preview 05-0914 copy

When Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture was released last year, the book was a sweeping success. Tracing the origins of mundane items like the taxi dashboard, the menthol inhaler and pink tissues, Bangkok-based British writer Philip Cornwel-Smith explained many of the oddities and nuicances of Thai culture. Now the author will share some of his insight at the Siam Society in a talk aimed at building a more inclusive, up-to-date picture of Thai culture, society and history. Take this chance to look anew at the ordinary at the Siam Society.

Thai Day was an English-language Thai newspaper

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #Bangkok #book #newspaper #reviews #SiamSociety #talks 

Asienhaus

Thailand: Abfall

Große Ziele – Kleine Realität

05-2-034 Asienhaus.de

34_________________________________________________________________Thailand: Abfall_______

südostasien 2/05

hailand produziert laut Welt bank jährlich rund 14,2 Millionen Tonnen Verbraucher- und

Industriemüll mit stetig steigender Tendenz. Die Recyclingrate beträgt

laut Aussagen der Regierung elf Pro-

zent, während sie beispielsweise in

Korea, Singapur und Japan bei 30 bis

50 Prozent liegt. Rechnet man jedoch

informelle Wege der Müllverarbeitung,

welche in Thailand eine große Bedeu-

tung spielen heraus, so kommt man

sogar nur auf eine Recyclingrate von

drei Prozent.1

Betrachtet man die Zusam-

mensetzung städtischen Mülls, der

in Phitsanulok beispielsweise zu 45

bis 50 Prozent aus wieder verwertba-

ren Materialien, zu 30 bis 35 Prozent

aus Biomüll und nur zu 20 Prozent

aus nicht wieder verwertbaren Mate-

rialien besteht2, so wird deutlich,

dass theoretisch ein großes Poten-

zial zur Müllreduktion und -auf-

bereitung in Thailand besteht. Dabei

darf der wirtschaftliche Nutzen durch

gesenkte Ausgaben für Abfallent-

sorgung und die Wiederverwendung

von Ressourcen nicht unterschätzt

werden.

Dementsprechend hat sich

die Regierung große Ziele gesetzt

und möchte im Rahmen des neunten

nationalen Wirtschafts- und Sozia-

lentwicklungsplanes (2003 bis 2008)

die Müllproduktion halbieren und die

Recyclingrate auf 30 Prozent anhe-

ben.3 Praktisch steckt die Umsetzung

aber häufig noch in den Kinderschu-

hen und staatliche Programme fehlen

völlig oder werden nur mangelhaft

implementiert.

Informelle Wege

des Recycling

Das Gros des Recyclingpro-

zesses übernimmt derzeit ein infor-

meller Sektor, dessen verschiedene

aufeinander aufbauenden Ebenen

sehr gut organisiert sind. Vom Müll-

sammler auf lokaler Ebene bis hin

zum überregionalen Recycling-

Privatunternehmer legt der Abfall

häufig einen langen Weg mit vielen

Zwischenstationen zurück und sichert

so zahlreichen Personen — zumin-

dest mehr oder weniger — den Le-

bensunterhalt. Je nach regionalem

Kontext sind verschiedene Ausprä-

gungen vorzufinden, wobei vor allem

zwischen städtischen und ländlichen

Regionen zu unterscheiden ist.

In städtischen Regionen, in

denen eine Müllabholung organisiert

ist, kommen meist früh morgens, vor

der offiziellen Müllabfuhr, Abfallsamm-

ler — auch »khon geb khaya« ge-

nannt, die die Abfalltonnen nach ver-

kauf- und brauchbaren Dingen

durchsuchen.1 Sie sind sehr arm, und

das Einkommen aus der Müllsuche

(oft weniger als monatlich 60 Euro

pro Familie) reicht meist kaum zum

Überleben. Da sie die gesamten

Mülltonnen durchwühlen, kommen

sie häufig in Kontakt mit giftigen Ab-

fällen und sind so einem hohen Ge-

sundheitsrisiko ausgesetzt. Zusam-

men mit Müllsammlern, die die letzten

Reste auf den Mülldeponien durch-

wühlen, nehmen sie eine sehr niedri-

ge soziale Position ein.

Weiterhin gibt es auch noch

»saleng«, die der Bevölkerung den

Müll abkaufen. Meist sind sie mit pe-

dalbetriebenen Dreirädern unterwegs

— in Bangkok gibt es immer häufiger

auch motorisierte Versionen — und

kündigen sich mit ihrer charakteristi-

schen Hupe den Bewohnern an. Sie

stehen eine Stufe höher in der Hierar-

chie als »khon geb khaya«, da sie

den Abfall nicht nehmen oder steh-

len, sondern Handel damit betreiben.

Sie kaufen wieder verwertbaren Müll,

wie beispielsweise Glas, Papier,

Plastik, Metall und Elektronik von der

Bevölkerung und verkaufen ihn dann

mit etwa fünf Baht (0,10 Euro) Profit

pro Kilo an Müllsammelstellen oder

Recycling-Shops weiter. Diese trans-

portieren den Abfall dann gebündelt

und in großen Mengen weiter an Re-

cycling-Fabriken. »Saleng« können

ein annehmbares Leben führen, wie

das Beispiel des 23-jährigen Nattha-

phon aus Phitsanulok zeigt.1 Als sein

Vater in Rente geht, gibt er seinen

Job in der BMW-Fabrik auf, um in das

Müllgeschäft einzusteigen, in dem

auch schon seine zwei Brüder und

seine Mutter tätig sind. Mit seinem

Müllsammeldreirad kann er täglich

etwa 500 Baht (zehn Euro) verdienen.

Seine Mutter, die einen Pick-up be-

sitzt, bringt es sogar auf das Doppel-

te.

Häufig sortieren auch die An-

gestellten der offiziellen Müllabfuhr

den Abfall als privaten Nebenver-

dienst. Während der Inhalt der Abfall-

tonnen auf der Ladefläche des Trucks

Große Ziele — kleine Realität

Das Abfallmanagement in Thailand

steckt noch in den Kinderschuhen

von Manuela Volkmann

Thailand produziert laut Weltbank jährlich rund 14,2 Millionen Tonnen Ver-

braucher- und Industriemüll mit stetig steigender Tendenz — theoretisch

ein großes Potenzial zur Müllreduktion und -aufbereitung. Dementspre-

chend hat sich die Regierung große Ziele gesetzt.

Die Autorin ist Sozialgeographin.

T

_______Thailand: Abfall__________________________________________________________________35

südostasien 2/05

entleert wird, sortieren sie den wieder

verwertbaren Müll aus und verkaufen

ihn nach Arbeitsende in Recycling-

Shops. Über ein vierköpfiges Müllab-

fuhrteam in Bangkok wird berichtet,

dass jedes Teammitglied so monat-

lich sein Gehalt um 5.000 bis 7.000

Baht (100 bis 140 Euro) anheben kann

— bemerkenswert bei einem Grund-

gehalt von 4.000 Baht (80 Euro).4

In den Recycling-Fabriken wird

der Müll weiter sortiert, zerkleinert, ge-

presst und gebündelt. Fischsaucen-

flaschen gehen zurück an die Fisch-

saucenfabriken, Whiskyflaschen zu-

rück in die Brennereien. Eisen, Stahl

und Glas wird an entsprechende Un-

ternehmen verkauft. Holz wird an

Schreiner veräußert, und die Säure von

Altbatterien findet bei der Behandlung

von Abwasser Verwendung.

Auf dem Land gestaltet sich

die Müllverarbeitung etwas anders.

Essensreste werden meist an die

Tiere verfüttert und der restliche or-

ganische Müll wird kompostiert oder

als Brennstoff getrocknet. Da größ-

tenteils aber keine organisierte Müll-

abholung existiert und auch »saleng«

und »khon geb khaya« seltener anzu-

treffen sind, ist es übliche Praxis, den

gesamten Abfall zu vergraben oder

im eigenen Garten zu verbrennen.

Die daraus resultierenden Gesund-

heitsrisiken und Umweltprobleme

sind offensichtlich.5

Ambivalenter Status

des Abfallbusiness

Obwohl zahlreiche Men-

schen ihren Lebensunterhalt im Müll-

geschäft verdienen und die öffentli-

chen Verwaltungen, die eigentlich für

den Müll zuständig sind, ohne diesen

informellen, privaten Sektor völlig

aufgeschmissen wären, handelt es

sich dabei um klassische niedrig ein-

gestufte und wenig geachtete Jobs.

Dies ist auch ein Grund da-

für, dass zahlreiche Antimüll-Kam-

pagnen bisher gescheitert sind oder

wenig erfolgreich waren. Der Aufruf zur

Mithilfe bei Säuberungsaktionen ver-

hallt oft im Winde, da die Ausübung

einer solchen Tätigkeit zu dem viel ge-

fürchteten Gesichtsverlust führen kann.

Mit den wenig geschätzten Müll-

sammlern möchte sich niemand auf

eine Stufe stellen. Die Bevölkerung auf

Haushaltsebene dazu zu bringen, sich

mit ihrem Müll zu beschäftigen und

ihn zu sortieren, stellt somit schon ei-

ne sehr schwere Aufgabe dar.

Nicht-Regierungsorgani-

sationen (NGOs) hingegen sehen die

»saleng« als ein sehr positives sozia-

les Glied in der Abfallbeseitigungsket-

te an und setzen sich für eine höhere

Wertschätzungen dieser Personen in

der Gesellschaft ein. Schließlich bie-

tet das Müllgeschäft zahlreichen ar-

men Bevölkerungsgruppen ein Aus-

kommen und sie könnten eine be-

deutende Rolle in der Aufklärungs-

und Erziehungsarbeit bezüglich Um-

welt- und Abfallentsorgungsbewusst-

sein einnehmen.1

Immer mehr

Wohlstandsmüll

Umweltschutz ist — nicht nur

— in Thailand meist ein wunder

Punkt, da die Wirtschaftspraxis und

Politik stark auf Entwicklung und we-

niger auf ihre Kosten fixiert sind.

Doch der Weg in die Moderne bringt

nicht nur Positives.

Einstellungen und kulturelle

Zielvorstellungen wie Sauberkeit,

Schönheit und Schicklichkeit mutie-

ren inzwischen häufig so weit, dass

alte Dinge von guter Qualität einfach

abgelegt werden zugunsten neuer

glänzender Ersatzgüter. So wird, wie

in vielen anderen Gesellschaften

auch ein Maß für Reichtum das,

was man sich leisten kann wegzuwer-

fen!1

War es in der Vergangenheit

üblich biologisch abbaubare Verpak-

kungsmaterialien wie Schilfkörbe,

Holzboxen und Bananenblätter zu

verwenden, so werden diese schein-

bar überkommenen »unentwickelten«

Materialien immer stärker durch

Symbole des modernen Lebens er-

setzt. Plastiktüte und Styroporverpak-

kung lassen grüßen!

Das kunstvolle übermäßige

Verpacken ist nicht wegzudenkender

Teil der thailändischen Shoppingreali-

tät und der Schriftsteller Anon Na-

kornthab resümiert: »Buy ten buns,

get eleven bags«.1 Alles, mag es

auch noch so klein sein, wird in eine

Plastiktüte verpackt. Dies geht so

weit, dass man auch Getränke aus

Dosen oder Flaschen in Plastiktüten

abfüllt, nur damit man Eiswürfel hin-

zufügen und ein praktisches tragba-

res gekühltes Getränk zu sich neh-

men kann. Lehnt man beim Einkauf

schließlich die zehnte Plastiktüte ab,

erntet man ungläubige Blicke, und

der Chef von 7-Eleven Thailand

glaubt, dass es noch Jahre brauchen

werde, bis thailändische Kunden

überhaupt die Frage eines Verkäufers

akzeptieren werden, ob sie denn eine

Tasche bräuchten.

Plastiktüten sind ein wirkli-

ches Problem, da sie nicht zu den

Plastiksorten zählen, die wiederver-

wertet werden können und einen

Großteil des Restmülls bilden. Die

Reduzierung der Verwendung der all-

gegenwärtigen Plastiktüten dürfte

demnach eine der größten Heraus-

forderungen sein, da Konsum- und

Verhaltensmuster im Kern dafür ge-

ändert werden müssen.

Müllsammelstelle in Ban Muanjia, Provinz Mahasarakham

36_________________________________________________________________Thailand: Abfall_______

südostasien 2/05

Und wohin mit

dem Restmüll?

Der Restmüll — der in der

Realität immer noch stark mit recy-

clebaren Materialien durchsetzt ist —

wird nach wie vor oft lokal vergraben

oder verbrannt, landet auf Mülldepo-

nien oder endet in einer Müllverbren-

nungsanlage.

Bei den Mülldeponien han-

delt es sich aber überwiegend um

ungesicherte Deponien — natürliche

Mulden oder ausgebaggerte Erdlö-

cher, die nicht extra abgedichtet sind.

Der hohe Anteil organischen Materi-

als ist verantwortlich dafür, dass De-

poniesickerwasser und Faulgas ge-

bildet wird. Ersteres beinhaltet meist

Schwermetalle und Pestizidrückstän-

de und verseucht das Grundwasser

in erheblichem Maße. Das Faulgas,

das vor allem aus Methan besteht, ist

ein sehr wirkungsvolles Treibhaus-

gas. Von offenen Deponien kann es

ungehindert in die Atmosphäre ent-

weichen und Müllhalden bilden welt-

weit die drittgrößte Methangasquelle

und tragen entsprechend stark zum

Treibhauseffekt bei.

Kontraproduktive

Scheinlösungen —

Müllverbrennungs-

anlagen

Die ersten thailändischen

Müllverbrennungsanlagen in Bang-

kok, Phuket und auf Ko Samui wur-

den als Fortschritt in der Müllentsor-

gung gefeiert. Man erhoffte sich posi-

tive Effekte durch finanzielle Gewinne

und Stromproduktion. Doch man

kann nicht sagen, dass daraus eine

Erfolgsstory wurde.

Der Bau der Anlagen war

sehr teuer, und in Phuket beispiels-

weise wurden für den Bau der Anlage

zahlreiche Mangrovenwälder abge-

holzt und Umweltauflagen missach-

tet. Außerdem ist fraglich, was sich

die Planer bei der Konstruktion

dachten, denn die Anlagen auf Ko

Samui und in Phuket sind völlig

überdimensioniert und werden nur

alle zwei bis drei Tage in Betrieb ge-

nommen, wenn sich genug Müll an-

gesammelt hat, um die Mindestka-

pazitätsgrenze zu überschreiten. So

schlucken die Anlagen mehr Geld als

Müll und belasten die Steuerzahler

erheblich durch die laufenden Kos-

ten, welche nicht gedeckt werden

können.

Doch damit nicht genug. In

Untersuchungen wurde weiterhin

nachgewiesen, dass die Anlagen

wahre Giftschleudern sind. Der Ver-

brennungsprozess entlässt bestimm-

te Toxine und Schwermetalle in Kon-

zentrationen in die Umwelt, die die

zulässigen Grenzwerte um ein Vielfa-

ches überschreiten. Trotzdem halten

die Regierung und natürlich die Be-

treiber der Müllverbrennungsanlagen

nach wie vor daran fest, dass diese

die einzige Lösung für Thailands Müll

seien.3

Umweltschutzorganisationen

wie Greenpeace fordern die Regie-

rung hingegen dazu auf, stärker in

umweltfreundliche Abfallmanage-

mentstrategien zu investieren und die

Müllreduktion, -trennung und das Re-

cycling voranzutreiben.6 Für die Müll-

verbrennungsanlagen sind dies keine

rosigen Aussichten. Schließlich arbei-

ten sie jetzt schon unausgelastet. Wie

soll das dann bei noch weniger Müll

werden?

Vorherrschende

Abfallpolitik

Die Müllverbrennungsanla-

gen sind ein Beispiel für häufig vor-

kommende wenig durchdachte,

kurzfristige End-of-the-pipe-Strate-

gien, die langfristig keine wirklichen

Veränderungen erwarten lassen. Es

geht um die Abwicklung der anfallen-

den Müllberge. Doch nicht nur eine

möglichst umweltverträgliche Beseiti-

gung von Abfällen, sondern eine

grundlegende Müllreduktion im Sinne

der Zielhierarchie Vermeidung, Ver-

wertung und Beseitigung sollte an-

gestrebt werden.

Der Durch- und Umsetzung

dieses Leitbildes stehen aber zahl-

reiche Hindernisse entgegen, die

aus der vorherrschenden Verwal-

tungs- und Planungsstruktur resultie-

ren. Der Entscheidungsprozess ist

nach wie vor stark zentralisiert, was

kosteneffiziente, flexible und innova-

tive Ansätze vonseiten der Kommu-

nen und Gemeinden nicht gerade

unterstützt. Ein effektives, nachhalti-

ges Müllmanagement kann jedoch

nicht top-down realisiert werden,

sondern die verschiedensten Akteu-

re und die Bevölkerung müssen in

den Planungsprozess einbezogen

werden. Zentral sind dabei auch die

Kooperation beteiligter Fachressorts

und die Zusammenarbeit benach-

barter Kommunen und Gemeinden.

Gerade für kleinere Städte, bei de-

nen die Wirtschaftlichkeit einer eige-

nen Abfallinfrastruktur fraglich ist,

können sich so Synergieeffekte er-

geben.

Lösungsansätze

Projekte zum integrierten

Abfallmanagement und der Mülltren-

nung in Thailand sind nicht zu ver-

gleichen mit vorherrschenden Syste-

men in Industrieländern, wo die Be-

völkerung den Müll trennen muss und

für dessen Abholung bezahlt. Viel-

mehr lehnen sich die Programme an

das profitgeleitete informelle Müll-

sammlersystem an, das der Bevölke-

rung schon vertraut ist.

Ein Beispiel für den Versuch

eines umfassenden städtischen Ab-

fallmanagements ist die Stadt Phitsa-

nulok, die sich intensiv mit der Be-

kämpfung der Abfallberge auseinan-

dersetzt. 1999 wurde dort auch das

»Solid Waste Management Program-

me for Phitsanulok« mit Hilfe der GTZ

gestartet.2

Für das Abfallmanagement

auf Haushaltsebene gibt es hier zwei

Hauptstrategien. Zum einen soll die

Bevölkerung durch den zu erwarten-

den Erlös aus dem Verkauf wieder

verwertbarer Materialien zur Mülltren-

nung animiert werden. Hierbei kom-

men verschiedene Modelle zum Ein-

satz. Märkte, bei denen private

Händler den Haushalten den Müll ab-

kaufen, werden veranstaltet, oder es

gibt Kleinunternehmer in der Ge-

meinde, die sozusagen als Mittel-

männer zwischen den Abfallhändlern

und den Haushalten fungieren. Ein

auch auf der Ebene lokaler und priva-

ter Gruppen sehr beliebter Ansatz ist

der der Recycle-Bank, der weiter un-

ten beschrieben wird.2

Die zweite wichtige Strategie

ist die Kompostierung. Organische

Abfälle bilden einen großen Teil im

Gesamtmüll und sollten genutzt wer-

den. Sie können dann zum Beispiel

im eigenen Garten verwendet werden

und chemischen Dünger ersetzen

oder für drei bis vier Baht pro Kilo

verkauft werden. Oft wird die Kom-

postierung auch auf Gemeindeebene

oder im Rahmen von Haushaltszu-

_______Thailand: Abfall__________________________________________________________________37

südostasien 2/05

sammenschlüssen gemeinsam

durchgeführt.2

Durch diese Maßnahmen

konnte das Müllaufkommen reduziert

werden, was in der Folge eine ge-

senkte Abholfrequenz nach sich zog.

Die Müllflotte von Phitsanulok konnte

von 28 auf 16 Fahrzeuge und die

Ausgaben um eine Million Baht pro

Jahr reduziert werden. Für die Haus-

halte ergeben sich positive Effekte

durch das Zusatzeinkommen und ei-

ne saubere Müllbeseitigung, da die

oft übel riechenden Bioabfälle nicht

mehr zwischen dem Restmüll in der

Mülltonne lagern.2

Doch viel stärker als im

Rahmen geförderter zwischenstaatli-

cher Programme der Entwicklungs-

zusammenarbeit oder vonseiten der

Stadtverwaltungen gibt es Initiativen

von lokalen Akteuren und NGOs, die

sich in kleinerem Umfang um eine

Verbesserung der Situation bemühen.

So zum Beispiel die NGO

Greenway Thailand, die sich im inter-

nationalen Jugend- und Kulturaus-

tausch engagiert. In ihrem Programm

nehmen Umweltprojekte eine wichti-

ge Rolle ein, und es wird versucht auf

lokaler Ebene, meist in kleinen Dör-

fern im ländlichen Raum, einen inte-

grierten Ansatz durchzusetzen.

Ein wichtiger Pfeiler dabei ist

die Aufklärungs- und Bildungsarbeit.

Diese erfolgt zum einen in den umlie-

genden Schulen, zum anderen gehen

die Freiwilligen direkt in die Häuser

der Dorfbewohner. Mithilfe gezeich-

neter Informationstafeln versuchen

sie über die Gefahren der Verbren-

nung von Plastik, mögliche Profite

durch Mülltrennung und die Vorteile

einer sauberen Umwelt zu informie-

ren. Von den Kindern und Jugendli-

chen erhofft man sich dabei, dass sie

als Multiplikatoren auf die Dorfbevöl-

kerung wirken.

Als zweiten wichtigen Punkt

baut Greenway auch eine Recyclin-

ginfrastruktur auf. Wichtigstes Instru-

ment dabei sind die Recycle-Banken,

die sich meist an Schulen befinden,

aber auch in Dörfern aufgebaut wer-

den können. Diese Bank imitiert das

System einer monetären Bank mit

dem Unterschied, dass die Einzah-

lungen aus Müll bestehen. Den Kin-

dern und Jugendlichen oder den

Dorfbewohnern werden entspre-

chend dem gültigen Müllpreis Punkte

auf einem Sparbuch gutgeschrieben.

Diese können dann in einem weiteren

Schritt in Form von Waren wie zum

Beispiel Schreib- oder Spielsachen,

Nahrungsmittel oder Hausrat einge-

tauscht werden.

Ein wesentliches Problem

der Umwelt- und Mülltrennungspro-

jekte ist, wie schon zuvor beschrie-

ben, auch hier die Tatsache, dass die

Bevölkerung Abfall mit einem niede-

ren Status assoziiert. Die Kinder, Ju-

gendlichen und Dorfbewohner über-

haupt zu einer Mitarbeit zu motivieren

ist das größte Problem. Deswegen

wird versucht prominente Einheimi-

sche in die Arbeit zu involvieren um

eine höhere Akzeptanz zu erreichen.

Aufklärungskampagnen und

Bildungsarbeit, die auch vom öffentli-

chen Sektor forciert werden sollten,

gekoppelt mit einem integrierten, par-

tizipativen Ansatz sind ein äußerst

wichtiger Grundstein für ein erfolgrei-

ches Müllmanagement. Erste Schritte

sind vielerorts in Thailand getan,

doch größtenteils handelt es sich da-

bei um gut gemeinte Einzelprojekte,

denen es noch an der Vernetzung

und Kooperation über die lokale oder

kommunale Ebene hinaus mangelt.

Denn was nutzt einer Stadt ein schö-

nes Abfallmanagement, wenn sie

täglich von vielen Besuchern und

Pendlern aus dem Umland frequen-

tiert wird, die alle ihre alt gewohnte

Entsorgungsmentalität importieren?

!

Literatur

1) Cornwel-Smith, P. 2005: Trash Recyclers.

Freelance gleaners make the most of rub-

bish. In: Kerr, A.: Very Thai. Everyday Po-

pular Culture. Bangkok, S. 67-69.

2) Hantrakul, S. und W. Schöll 2002: Challen-

ges for Thai Municipal Governments in

Modern Service Delivery: Solid Waste Ma-

nagement in Phitsanulok. In: Nelson, Mi-

chael (Hrsg.): Thai Politics: Local and

Global Perspectives. Bangkok (= KPI Ye-

arbook 2).

3) Akao, H.E. 2000: Double Standards of

Environmental Behavior. URL: http://www.

no-burn.org/ggm/gmcrep-th.html (Stand

10.04.2005).

4) Asian Labour News 2004: Thailand: A day

in the life of a garbage truck team. URL:

http://www.asianlabour.org/archives/00120

7.php (Stand 10.04.2005).

5) Energy Research Institute 2000: Thailand

energy strategy and policy. URL:

http://www.teenet.chula.ac.th/plan/ph3-

estrategy.asp (Stand 10.04.2005).

6) http://www.greanpeacesoutheastasia.org/

en/pr/pr_tx/pr_tx_20040108.html (Stand

10.04.2005).

Recycle-Bank in Betrieb: Huamo School in Ban Huamo, Provinz Mahasarakham

 

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #culture #features #German #international 

GayThailand.de

Buchtipps

Ein Muss für alle Thailand-Fans: Der grandiose Foto/Text-Band “Very Thai” widmet sich der Alltagskultur im Land des Lächelns

By Christian Scheuß

Was ist typisch Deutsch? Als Deutscher muss man da wahrscheinlich länger überlegen, weil das Typische so alltäglich um einen herum steht und stattfindet, dass man es für nicht mehr besonders erwähnenswert hält. Würde man einen Thailänder, der hier zu Besuch ist, dasselbe fragen, würde er sicher auf ganz viele Dinge zeigen.
In einen fremden Kulturkreis einzutauchen, heißt den Blick zu weiten. Der Autor Philip Cornwel-Smith und der Fotograf John Goss – beide Amerikaner – haben diesen Blick bei ihren ersten Besuchen in Thailand gehabt und nun das aus ihrer Sicht besonders Thailändische in Wort und Bild festgehalten. Herausgekommen ist ein buntes wie grandioses Kaleidoskop des Alltags im Land des Lächelns. (more…)

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Tags: #book #gay #German #international #reviews #website 

Chiang Mai Mail

(Newspaper, Thailand)
http://www.chiangmai-mail.com/136/bmm.shtml
Book Review: Very Thai
by Lang Reid
 
Another guide to life in Thailand, but not the usual “which bus to catch” and “don’t mess with the servants”, but a hard-cover guide to the everyday, but oft unfathomable, life and times in Thailand. Written by Philip Cornwel-Smith, a writer with much experience in this country, and photographed by John Goss, Very Thai – Everyday Popular Culture (ISBN 974-9863-00-3) was published this year by River Books in Bangkok.
 
In Alex Kerr’s preface to the book, he writes, “A hundred things which had intrigued me for decades became clear on reading it (the book). Such as where the statue of the beckoning lady came from, or why the alphabet always appears with pictures.” That introduction alone was, for me, the ‘beckoning lady’ to look further! (more…)

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Tags:

The Irrawaddy

What Makes Thais Tick?

Cornwel-Smith provides some entertaining insights

By Bertil Lintner

A crash course in cultural orientation is the first introduction to Thailand that American Peace Corps volunteers get when they arrive in the kingdom. High-society ladies of noble standing teach them that Thai girls are very shy and conservative.
They spend their entire adolescence cooking food, cleaning their houses, and, for relaxation, painting umbrellas. Every young woman is a virgin until she gets married to a hardworking man, who is deeply devoted to traditional Asian family values. The reality confronting the young Americans when they arrive in a small village in the Northeast, therefore, comes as a shock. Half the teenage girls are either single mothers or pregnant, and their boyfriends have escaped their responsibilities and fled to Bangkok. Every married adult, man or woman, seems to be having an affair with somebody else. Family relations in rural Thailand can, in fact, be even more confused and bewildering than in America’s inner cities.

(more…)

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Tags: #book #international #magazine #reviews 

Svenska Dagbladet

New book about Thailand behind the façade

by Bertil Lintner

VT SvenskaDag 002 copy

Superficially, Thailand may appear more Westernised than most other countries in Asia. Jeans, T-shirts, Coca-Cola and hamburger joints belong to the youth culture here, like English football and American pop music. But there’s something very Thai behind the façade not only in the indigenous culture but also in the way in which the Thais absorb outside influences. All those phenomena are explained splendidly in a new book, Very Thai: Everyday Popular Thai Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith, a Bangkok-based English journalist. Beauty contests, astrology, taxi altars, belief in ghosts and spirits are all put in their proper context in this very readable book.

Svenska Dagbladet is a Swedish newspaper

Bertil Lintner 
is the author of Blood Brothers: Crime, Business and Politics in Asia;Burma in Revolt; Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea Under the Kim Clan

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Tags: #book #international #newspaper 

Britain in Thailand

Visions of Thailand

British author Philip Cornwel-Smith talks to John Ramsay about his journey from Time Out London to Bangkok’s first city listings magazine and his new book Very Thai, an in-depth celebration of Thai popular culture.

By John Ramsay

VT intv Britain in Thailand VT intv Britain in Thailand2

Eleven years ago, on his way home to the UK, author Philip Cornwel-Smith landed in Thailand on a three-day stop-over little knowing it would change his life. In those three days he had an offer he couldn’t refuse: to become the founding editor of Metro, Bangkok’s first city listings magazine. He’s been here ever since.

“I’d previously worked on Time Out guidebooks in London,” he says. “And for a listings agency that supplied newspapers such as the Guardian, Daily Mirror and Daily Telegraph.

“The Time Out London guide was the first publication I worked on, so things have come full circle, because I‘m now editing the Time Out Bangkok guidebook.” (more…)

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Tags: #magazine #reviews #Thailand 

The Nation (1st ed review)

Thank you, your Thai-ness

Mysteries of the Siamese landscape marvellously revealed, with all due affection – and affectation
By Paul Dorsey

 

Alex Kerr, earning his accreditation herein as an “Asia pundit”, says it best in the foreword to Very Thai: “This is the book I wish I’d had when I first came to Thailand.” It is truly so much better than any other “guide” (once you’ve got all the maps and hotel listings in your pocket).

A pair of aliens who upon landing fell in love with Thailand, Bangkok Metro magazine’s former British editor Philip Cornwel-Smith and American artist -photographer John Goss have, with genuine affection, put together 256 pages of endearing text with 494 colour photos of instantly recognisable social signatures. (more…)

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Sticky Rice

Review: Very Thai – Everyday Popular Culture

By Ms. Connie Lingus

Sticky Rice review of VT

http://www.stickyrice.ws/?view=very_thai

As the Rough Guide to Thailand observed this guide on contemporary Thailand is well-researched, knowledgeable, and lavishly photographed. Its not a guide book per se. It can’t fit in your pocket, but it is of a size to pop in your packsack. But it should grace your coffee table and be readily at hand when you want to reference some cultural phenomenon that suddenly confronts you in your wanderings through the Land of Smiles. This could be when a street vendor passes your gate yelling that he has brooms for sale. It could be when another goes by selling ice cream sticks. Or it could be when you have just turned on the television and cannot figure out what your boyfriend finds so uproariously funny about this game show.
The author of this review did know that one piece of information, regarding the tailless cats which seem ubiquitous in Thailand, are commonly seen because somehow a tailless cat must have entered the feline gene pool in the Kingdom at some point. But in pointing this phenonmenon out to an acquaintance, realised that many people living in Thailand still think the cats without tails in Thailand have had their tails lopped off by some evil feline haters.

 

(more…)

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Tags: #book #gay #magazine #metromagazine #reviews #timeout 

Time Magazine (Asia)

The Thais That Bind

A new, encyclopedic book relishes Thailand’s embrace of all things un-Thai

By Andrew RC Marshall (Pullitzer-Prize winning journalist and author of The Trouser People)

VTW Time article 7842The publication of Very Thai, a unique guide to Thai pop and folk culture, coincides with the country’s biggest debate about national identity in more than half a century. In the World War II era, the military Phibunsongkhram regime rallied under the slogan “Thailand for the Thais.” Today, the country seems mesmerized again by nationalism. Schools and colleges have been ordered by the Ministry of Education to display the flag more prominently and play the national anthem at a higher volume.
(more…)

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The Australian

Bangkok inside out

Andrew RC Marshall shares his 10 top tips for an intimate view of Thailand’s city of angels

 

VT Australian 001 crop VT Australian 002 copy

ALL THE ANSWERS: Why do Thai truck drivers hang pictures of Al Pacino on their mud flaps? Where did the fume-belching tuk-tuk originate? What exactly is a sniff kiss? And why are Thais such terrible drivers? You’ll find the answers and much more in Very Thai (River Books, 2004) by long-time Bangkok resident Philip Cornwel-Smith. An absorbing guide to popular culture, Very Thai shines a loving light on the minutiae of everyday life. A chapter on names explains that Thais are often called Frog, Pig or Ant to confuse evil spirits, or choose memorable nicknames such as Man-U, Nokia, and even God. The book is equally fun and authoritative on subjects as diverse as bulletproof tattoos, high-society hairdos, beetle fighting, folk music, soap operas and the all-consuming Thai concept of sanuk – fun.

 

Andrew RC Marshall is a Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist for  Reuters, who previously wrote for Time and is the author of The Trouser People.

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Asian Wall Street Journal (review)

Pop Goes Thai Culture

Two Odes to the Unsung Aspects of the `Land of Smiles’

By Jennifer Gampell, in Personal Journal

VT AWSJ article B 2863 crop
BANGKOK — What gives Thailand its groove–and will continue to do so despite the recent tsunami devastation–is never obvious from the photos of glittery temples and palm-treed beaches endemic to tourist brochures and coffee-table books. Nor does the sleazy bargirl lens through which the expatriate hack novelists perceive the country reflect a true image. Between these two mythic extremes lie all the fascinating quirks of everyday Thai life; the disparate yet omnipresent phenomena like street vendors, beauty pageants and 7-11 stores that are virtually invisible to guidebook writers. (more…)

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Tom Yum magazine

Review by Chris Otchy

“Aside from being a great read and entertaining conversation piece, Very Thai also goes great lengths to interpret the semiotics and symbols of modern times… It’s extremely hard to put back down.”

Tom Yum was an English-language Thai magazine

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Gavroche

Tout tout tout, vous saurez tout sure les Thaïlandais

By Thibault Geoffrois

 

Mais que se chache-t-il derrière le sourire de la Joconde… euh, des Thaïlandais? Le pays du sourire recèle en effet de nombreuses facettes, à la fois surprenantes et mystérieuses, qui inteprellent.
Les multiples questions que vous pouves vous poser lors de vos peregrinations et autres déambulations dans l’ancien rayaume de siam, et auxquelles vous n’aviez, jusqu’alors, pas trouvé de réponse, trouveront lumière dans l’ouvrage “Very thai” de Philip Cornwel-smith. Ce journaliste Anglophone, ancien rédacteur en chef du magazine Metro à Bangkok, est spécialaisé dans le redaction d’articles lies au voyage à la culture thaïe. (more…)

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City Life

Tom Yum! Hot Pot

Stirring Up Bangkok’s most flavourful
events/spots for January 2005

By Stirling Silliphant & Chris Otchy

VT City Life 05-0101a VT City Life 05-0101b

RIO GRANDE 
Brazilian madness erupts on Feb 26, when the Carnival from Rio de Janeiro pitches up at Shera1 Jan 2005
ton Grande Sukhumvit. Eat, drink, and be Latin with the self-professed “happiest Brazilian group in Asia!” After cocktails and a buffet dinner, samba dancers jiggle for the crowd, paying homage to four of the main Samba styles from Rio. A night of overindulgence in food and drunken gyrations to make the Romans proud…

Carnival from Rio de Janeiro Feb 26 at Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, 6.30pm-1am. B2000/person. Contact Ana Lasavanich (09-812 0899, lasavanich@hotmail.com)

 (more…)

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FCCT Dateline Bangkok

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand magazine

Books Section: Very Thai

By Vaudine England

VT FCCT dateline_4th_2004 cover VT FCCT dateline_4th_2004 review

Perhaps the publishing sensation of 2004, this book promises, and delivers, a fascinating exploration of Everyday Popular Culture in Thailand. Written by Philip Cornwel- Smith, and photographed by John Goss, this book is a revelation of all those things we thought we’d never understand.
The launch of the book, published by River Books, was just as imaginative and fun as the book. It was held at the Jim Thompson House, where the forecourt was covered in classic Thai street food stalls. Guests were treated to drinks in plastic bags with straws (yes, even the beer and the wine). Author Cornwel-Smith set the tone by wearing a bright orange motorbike taxi man’s jacket. And Miss Jumbo Queen was there to add to the fun.
Once readers delve into the book, they will find a cornucopia of delights. Ever wondered why Thai restaurants offer such tiny, pink paper napkins? The answer is here. Ever puzzled over why the Lady-Boy phenomenon seems so Very Thai? Then read on. (more…)

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Rough Guide to Thailand

Books: Culture & Society

By Lucy Ridout

“Why do Thais decant their soft drinks into plastic bags, and what lies behind their penchant for Neoclassical architecture? Answers and insights aplenty in this erudite, sumptuously photographed guide to contemporary Thai culture.”

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Tags: #book #guidebooks #international #reviews #Thailand #tourism 

Bangkok Post (1st ed review)

It could only happen here

Real.Time Good Reads/Understanding Thailand

By Nick Grossman

Bk Post 1st ed rev DSC01369 crop
BK Post review DSC02973 crop

Thailand is full of unusual and mysterious sights, sounds and happenings, most of which we accept as the everyday glue of our lives. Want ice cream on a hot dog bun. Sure, why not? Make a right turn at that elephant. OK. Blind bands serenade the street; incongruous Greco-Roman balconies define the skyline; people stare into trees searching for lucky numbers. Has the novelty worn off?
Long-time expat Philip Cornwel-Smith has written a thrilling, trail-blazing book of cultural history that will help you see and understand Thailand afresh. In more than 60 essays complemented by over 250 colour photographs, Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture explicates the everyday mysteries and expressions of Thai culture. (more…)

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Bangkok Post: The Magazine

Perfect Ten

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