Bangkok River BKKRVR

Explore: Thai: Very Bangkok

6 March 2021

Bangkok can seem confusing, but beneath the chaos, it has a surprising internal logic. Understanding its inner character is the aim of Very Bangkok, which is the most up-to-date and comprehensive book on the Thai capital.

Written by longtime resident Philip Cornwel-Smith, Very Bangkok: In the City of the Senses is not arranged by area or era, but through themes that explain this city of surprise. Vividly photographed by the author, the book starts and finishes on the river, from the city’s origins as a trading post and sacred island to today’s riverside creative resurgence. In between, we get to explore its many contradictions, whether chic or street, elite or pop, ancient or futuristic.

Half of the book explores Bangkok’s impact on our senses, whether the love of boisterous noise or the aromatic herbal and floral arts. It turns out that Bangkok food has its own flavour profile, thanks to multi-ethnic influences. We also probe the supernatural sixth sense that shapes many decisions, plus the semi-taboo scene of shamanic trance. In all, it covers 20 senses, including the distinctive Thai senses of direction, time or colour. You’ll never think of Bangkok the same way again.

The heart of the book is about Bangkokians themselves, whether hi-so elites, folk communities or middle-class mall-goers. We encounter vivid subcultures, such as the informal markets, youth tribes and ethnic identities, from Muslims and Mons to the majority Thai-Chinese. The conclusion reflects on the gulfs between Bangkok’s self-image, its wilder noir reputation, and a new wave of realistic portrayals in the arts. Behind the myths of Thainess, we discover the essence of Bangkokness.

The author has become an expert on his adopted city since 1994, as founding editor of its first listings magazine Metro, editor of the Time Out Bangkok city guide, and author of the influential bestseller, Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture.

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The Guardian

Bangkok: a virtual tour through film, food, music and books

Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, in Bangkok.
Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, in Bangkok. Photograph: Thatree Thitivongvaroon/Getty Images

by Philip Cornwel-Smith, Fri 26 Feb 2021 11.00 GMT

Explore the dynamism and contradictions of one of Asia’s most beguiling cities through its culture, novels and cuisine

Few cities assail the senses as viscerally as Bangkok, from the kinetic cacophony of its street life to its aromatic herbal cures and the incendiary spice of the food. Social distancing has only briefly withheld the touch of Thai massage and the jostle of its markets. Juxtapositions startle the eye, with designs often decided by fortune tellers or sacred colours. Timber shacks abut glitzy towers of novelty shapes in the world’s third least equal society. 

Breakneck modernisation has sparked tensions between the cosmopolitan “hi-so” (high society) and grassroots values, while young reformers protest at the seniority system that enforces a hidden order behind the apparent chaos. Amid the hi-tech towers, a vast informal economy wheels food stalls and makes street furniture from found materials. It’s both fun and poignant to ride around the teeming centre on motorcycle taxis, converted pickup trucks or canal boats with a hinged canvas roof that lowers under bridges.

Bangkok’s canal districts are still served by floating corner shops.
Bangkok’s canal districts are still served by floating corner shops. Photograph: Philip Cornwel-Smith

Author and composer SP Somtow called it a “city both futuristic and feudalistic, a city where the first and third worlds were in endless collision”, in his book The Crow: Temple of Night. Others say this village-minded megalopolis is Blade Runner-esque.

Returning tourists will find its tangled laneways opened up by fresh routes. New rapid urban railways link neglected districts, and will meet the trans-Asian network at the new Bang Sue Grand station. Driverless Gold Line trains run to the huge IconSiam riverside mall, and on to Kudi Jeen, a 250-year-old quarter first settled by Persians and Portuguese, Hokkien Chinese and Mon people from Myanmar. Paths lead to a waterfront cafe named My Grandparents’ House, embodying the trend of rediscovering once-supressed Chinese heritage.

London never got its garden bridge, but Bangkok last year opened the leafy SkyPark, spanning the Chao Praya river from Kudi Jeen to Chinatown. Its undulations afford views downstream, where skyscrapers bristle like a hairbrush, and upstream to the Grand Palace, the temple of the reclining Buddha, and Wat Arun, the city’s five-spired symbol. Mosaicked in particoloured glass and china, Bangkok’s temples are, to cite Somerset Maugham in his 1935 travelogue The Gentleman in the Parlour, “unlike anything in the world … and you cannot fit them into the scheme of things you know. It makes you laugh with delight that anything so fantastic could exist on this sombre Earth.”

The rejuvenated Khlong Ong Ang canal, Bangkok
The rejuvenated Khlong Ong Ang canal. Photograph: Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images/Rex

The SkyPark leads right to the old moat, Khlong Ong Ang, where markets have been cleared to make canalside promenades lined with Instagram-ready murals of Sikhs, Muslims and Teochew Chinese traders. The country’s multi-ethnic past is being repackaged into a digestible “diverse” Thainess. But as William Warren warned in his 2012 portrait of the city, Bangkok, “the result of this successful assimilation has been the steady decline, virtually the disappearance, of anything purely Thai”.

Chinatown, too, is relinquishing its mysteries as shophouses turn into galleries, bars and hostels. Crumbling stucco alleys strewn with engine parts draw hipsters during the Chinese Vegetarian Festival, Bangkok Design Week and regular Galleries Nights. Siam’s first paved street, Charoenkrung Road, arcs through here into Bangrak Creative District, an independent initiative by young urbanites that bypasses the state’s orderliness to make a virtue of the varied chaos.

See

Instalation by Thai artist P7 at last year’s Bangkok Art Biennale.
Instalation by Thai artist P7 at last year’s Bangkok Art Biennale. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

Bangkok Vanguards pioneered neighbourhood tours here. You can now join them via Zoom, either as a live-streamed scooter trip or a video tour narrated by the guide. From Khlong Ong Ang, you thread through the passages of Saphan Han with its community leader, encountering a jewellery workshop, a sala pao dumpling stall and a shrine to their Teochiu deity, Pun Tao Kong.

Across the moat from Saphan Han are the neighbourhoods of Little India and Wang Burapha, which was the first Thai hub of pop culture. That history is told in one of the virtual exhibitions at the irreverent Museum Siam, viewable alongside ones of nearby Tha Tien market plus the museum’s irreverent take on nationalism, Decoding Thainess.

Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch’s porcelain tanks at the Bangkok Biennale.
Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch’s porcelain tanks at the Bangkok Biennale.
Photograph: Philip Cornwel-Smith

Museum Siam was a venue for the recent Bangkok Art Biennale, one of the few biennials to go ahead last year. Its pavilions can still be toured online. Among the 82 artists from 35 countries, Anish Kapoor adapted a wax installation for the prayer hall of Wat Pho. The 31 Thai artists include Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch, whose porcelain tanks capture the fragility of power, Peerachai “Samer” Patanaporgchai, a homeless savant whose graffiti of elaborate paranoid diagrams is a familiar sight across downtown, and Charit Pusiri’s peep show on Bangkok life.

Watch

The Hangover Part II … ‘Bangkok at its most compulsively lurid’.
The Hangover Part II … ‘Bangkok at its most compulsively lurid’. Photograph: Melinda Sue Gordon/AP

Bangkok’s reputation is at its most compulsively lurid in The Hangover Part II, a bachelor party caper that spawned Hangover guided tours and the catchphrase: “Bangkok has him now.” The best films about this city aren’t being streamed, but Netflix has several popular dramas: Bangkok Traffic Love Story, which deals with contemporary mores; Hormones (2013-15), the first Thai series to tackle youth issues with provocative realism; and time-travel fantasy series Love Destiny (2018), which contrasts today’s affluent lifestyle with 17th-century courtiers, sparking a fad for wearing traditional dress to events.

The 1840s story of the ghost of Mae Nak – who sees her beloved husbandsent off to war and later dies in childbirth in what is now the Phrakhanong neighbourhood – has sparked countless films, from the sumptuous 1999 romance Nang Nak to the 2013 horror-comedy Pee Mark Phrakhanong, about her hapless husband. In a documentary on the city’s visual culture, World In Motion: Bangkok, I guide you through Nak’s shrine at Wat Mahabut. 

Taste

Street food stall in Chinatown, Bangkok
Street food stall in Chinatown. Photograph: Philip Cornwel-Smith

In her food blog She Simmers, Leela Punyaratabandhu dissects how the TV series Love Destiny contrasted ancient and current recipes, such as a dip for grilled fish. Her cookbook Bangkok: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Thailand, explains the foreign influences upon its hybrid cuisine, and comes with YouTube demonstrations. She reveals how a Thai prime minister famously added a splash of brandy when cooking his green curry with beef. While other curries can get away with pre-made pastes, she insists that green curry paste is best made fresh, toasting the coriander seeds and cumin before grinding with the herbs and shrimp paste.

But Bangkok’s most famous cooking class, which also sparked a book and YouTube clips with Jamie Oliver, earned fame initially for its title: Cooking With Poo. Chef Saiyuud Diwong – nicknamed Poo (crab) – proudly stayed based in the Khlong Toey slum where she grew up. 

The first Michelin star for Thai food went to Australian chef David Thompson at Bangkok’s Como hotel, whose two cookbooks, Thai Food and Thai Street Food, are laced with cultural context. The latter spawned a TV series (on Vimeo), partly set in Bangkok, which demonstrates how to brown a Sino-Thai oyster omelette using pork fat and tapioca flour.

The aural equivalent of the exploding flavour pockets in Thai cuisine is molam, the north-eastern music introduced by migrants from the Thai and Laotian hinterlands since the 17th century. It’s the music most busked on the streets, often by groups of blind musicians. Spotify streams the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band, a supergroup of master players who blended the plaintively warbled vocals and bamboo khaen pipes with surf rock and Latin rhythms that get anyone churning to its infectious beats.

Bangkok pop feels bland by comparison, with copycat sounds, K-pop formulas and tonal vocals that can sound off-key. Yet some Bangkok-born artists earn fans abroad by singing in English. Phum Viphurit sings fetching jangly tunes and one of Hugo Chakrabongse’s blues-infused rock ballads has been covered by Beyoncé.

Thai rap ranges from the polished sound of Thaitanium on Mahanakorn and with Snoop Dogg on Wake Up (Bangkok City), to slum homeboys such as 19Tygerrapping about Khlong Toey. Protest songs by the collective Rap Against Dictatorship changed Thai politics, with a 100 million YouTube views of the taboo-shattering invective Prathet Ku Mee (What My Country’s Got).

Read

Bangkok Noir cover

Bangkok Noir (2011) gives short-story tastes of Bangkok’s detective genre set in seedy locales like Soi Cowboy. “Noir in Bangkok happens fast,” notes its editor, Christopher G Moore, talking of how it is fed by folk beliefs and the news. “At every turn there is a new noir-like incident, such as the temple morgue found to contain two thousand aborted foetuses. Take a late night walk through some poor neighbourhoods. Hear the soi dogs howling as the angry ghosts launch themselves through the night, and observe that modern possessions don’t stop the owners from making offerings to such spirits.”

The Glass Kingdom cover

Leading literary expat Lawrence Osborne dissects the ambiguity of outsiders in his travelogue Bangkok Days and condominium-set thriller The Glass Kingdom. “Bangkok is an asylum for those who have lapsed into dilettantism,” he quips. “Westerners choose Bangkok as a place to live precisely because they can never understand it.” And it’s no less of an enigma to Thais.

Bangkok Wakes to Rain cover

Some local authors published in English try to unblock the policed blanks in the national memory. In Bangkok Wakes to Rain, Pitchaya Sudbanthad tracks a wooden house over centuries via its conversion into a spa to its fate in a flooded future Bangkok, evoking the city’s sensory hit. “A pearl-eyed lottery seller, sensing passersby from footsteps and the clap of flip-flops, calls out of an opened case of clothes-pinned tickets to whoever craves luck. Her nose picks up the ashen smell always in the air.” Like indie novellist Veeraporn Nitiprapha in The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth, he uses metaphor to tackle scandals that most try to forget. As Pitchaya dryly notes: “The not remembering doesn’t really work, does it?”

Philip Cornwel-Smith was the founding editor of Bangkok’s first listings magazine, Metro, and the Time Out City Guide to Bangkok. His latest book is Very Bangkok: In the City of the Senses (River Books, £20)

© 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. (modern)

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2021/feb/26/bangkok-a-virtual-tour-through-film-food-music-and-books?fbclid=IwAR3cR3qtP3Ok309JgIOAaFheWAxeoatcv_CTMw1YGK4WzMErM1NbE3FYPOE

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Thailand Expat Writers List (VT & VB)

A Review of ‘Very Thai’ and ‘Very Bangkok’ by Philip Cornwel-Smith 

By Steve Rosse, 20 Feb 2021

Some time in the summer of 1989 I was working on a one-day shoot for something, a dog food commercial maybe. There’s a lot of down time in video production, or at least there was before everybody was shooting movies on their iPhone. We used to stand around the set for hours and talk and talk and talk. It was one of the best parts of working in the industry.

So on this day there was a guy in the Electrics department who was holding everybody’s attention with his stories about working for a couple of months in Thailand on “Casualties of War.” (Because of the continuity challenges involved in shooting a feature length movie in which the main characters never change their clothes he called it “Casualties of Wardrobe.”)

“There’s only two Thai words you need to learn,” he said. “Towel-I and Meeow. They mean ‘how much’ and ‘I don’t want it.’” Hearty guffaws and knowing winks all the way around. His mispronunciation of the words rankled, but his implication that all Thailand had to offer was an adventageous rate of exchange was worse. Still, I held my tongue, because my own experience of Thailand was, at that point, only three months in the bars and brothels of Phuket, and I didn’t think that gave me the moral high ground.

In 1990 I moved to Thailand permanently (“permanently” wound up to be only seven years) and I quickly learned that Thailand is experienced subjectively. Every farang has a different idea about what Thailand is. I had friends who owned bars, who spent every day and every night in their own bar, and had done so for years on end. Their view of Thailand was radically different than the guys who had come to Thailand in the 1960’s with the Peace Corps and spent years upcountry teaching rice farmers how to spray for weevils. And their Thailand was WAY different than the Thailand cherished by the old soldiers who had come on R&R, and WAY-WAY different from the Club Med executives who moved from continent to continent every two years, and more different still than the Thailand pored over by the academics who came to teach for a semester at Chula and stayed forever because they fell in love with being adored.

We can only know as much of the world as our five (or six) senses tell us, says The Buddha. Jump ahead to 2018, and I’m visiting Phuket for the first time in 20 years. The place overwhelms me. The God-awful traffic, the pollution everywhere, the overcrowding, the push-push-push. The sheer ugliness of the place. It was like meeting an old girlfriend who’d become hideous. My friend Baz said, “You’re the tensest tourist in Thailand. Why don’t we go ride bicycles in the Khao Sok National Forest? Maybe you can find some cannabis up there and mellow out a little.”

I hadn’t been on a bicycle since I was a teenager, but I jumped at the chance to get out of the place I’d spent two decades dreaming of coming back to. I also jumped at the possibility of finding a little weed. After living in a State with legal weed for four years I had developed a pretty stern daily habit, and it had never occurred to me, in all the time I’d spent fantasizing about coming back, that when I finally returned to my beloved Thailand it would mean suddenly going cold turkey. I was Jonesing bad. 

We went North and checked into some bungalows in the forest and the bike nearly crippled me and I never found any weed. But on our second morning there Baz took me to some breakfast joint he liked, and while we waited for our eggs I checked out the little shelf of discarded books in the corner of the dining room. Among the detective novels and Lonely Planet Guides I spotted a hard-back book called ‘Very Thai,’ by Philip Cornwel-Smith. I pulled it off the shelf because it was in hardback; it looked and felt like a textbook. Remember when books felt like something important in your hands?

Well, ‘Very Thai’ feels and looks and reads like something important and lavish and gorgeous. I read that book until our meals arrived at the table. Then I read that book while I ate. Then, after our bills were paid, I contemplated stealing that book. I’m not shy about stealing books; I’ve stolen books from some of my best friends. There was a little note on the shelves that said you could take a book if you left a book, but I didn’t have a book to leave. If that copy of ‘Very Thai’ had been a paperback it would have been in my back pocket without a second thought. But it was too big and solid and real to smuggle out in my clothing, and that skinny waitress with the lazy eye was already suspicious of me. With deep regret I put ‘Very Thai’ back on the shelf.

Since returning to New Mexico I’ve purchased my own copy of ‘Very Thai,’ and also a copy of the follow-up volume, ‘Very Bangkok.’ I almost never buy books. They’re expensive, and almost every book is available for free through the interlibrary loan system. ‘Very Thai’ and ‘Very Bangkok,’ which are only available in handsome hard-bound editions, each cost about twenty dollars at Amazon, and shipping adds another twenty.

I paid sixty dollars for two books, which is WAY, WAY, WAAAAAAY out of character for me. But I’m glad I did. I’ve got about fifty books about Thailand on my shelves right now, and in two years when I retire to Thailand (God willing) Mr. Cornwel-Smith’s books are the only books I’m planning to take with me.

He says this in his introduction to “Very Thai:” “I’ve tried to steer a balanced course through the minefield of outsider opinions: orientalist fantasists; sensationalist moral scolds; earnest students of culture; old hands (some rejoicing, some embittered); champions of Thai exceptionalism who are jaundiced about the West; universalist ideologues suspicious of cultures that are more judgmental of gender, race, class, faith, minority or other social markers; religious believers who interpret Thailand through their faith; anthropologists who filter Thainess through academic categories. I try to be the open-minded “flaneur,” – the wandering seeker of raw experience, open to impressions.”

Okay, A: Mr. Cornwel-Smith is a compulsive list-maker, but while I disagree with his use of the semicolon that is a lovely, long, wonderfully precise and colorful sentence, and B: That sentence describes what should be (I think) the object of any farang who writes about Thailand. I am surely one of the “orientalist fantasists” he mentions (and also a “universalist ideologue”) so it’s probably beneficial for me periodically to be exposed to a more open-minded flaneuring.

In his introduction to ‘Very Thai,’ Alex Kerr says, “‘Very Thai’ looks at the simple things of daily life that Thais and foreigners usually pass by, but in these very details lie the mystery and magic of what it is to be Thai.” I don’t know if revealing to farang the mystery and magic of what it is to be Thai is even possible, but certainly he’s right that Mr. Cornwel-Smith has focused on the minutiae of Thai living. He’s illuminating the macro by shining a light on the micro.

Ever wondered about those ubiquitous and almost useless little square pink tissue paper napkins? ‘Very Thai’ is where you’ll find out about them. (There were some on the table in Khao Sok when I first stumbled across this book, and so that was the first chapter I read.) Ever wondered about all those electrical wires tangled over the street? Or how you bet on a Hercules Beetle battle? The difference between Luuk Thung and Mor Lam? Soap operas, katoeys, icons, shrines, tuk-tuks, beauty contests, blind street musicians, edible insects, or lucky lottery numbers? This is where you’ll find your answers.

‘Very Thai’ seemed to me pretty Bangkok-centric, but even so Mr. Cornwell-Smith has also given us ‘Very Bangkok.’ Now, I’ve said it before in this forum but since I’m the Admin I’ll allow myself to say it again: Bangkok sucks donkey balls. It’s Mexico City without the culture. Since a million beautiful, charming, cheap places to live are available only an hour from Krung Thep by bus, I don’t know why anybody would ever choose to live there. But if you are forced by marriage or occupation to live in Bangkok then ‘Very Bangkok’ is a useful, perhaps an essential, guide.

In his introduction to ‘Very Bangkok’ Lawrence Osborne says these books are a “…brilliant and polychromatic look at Bangkok done in a way that no other writer has attempted.” I quibble with that only because I think these books are solidly in the tradition of Denis Segaler’s ‘Thai Ways,’ but brilliant and polychromatic they certainly are. The photographs are jaw-dropping. They are nothing less than amazing. Just flipping through the book looking at the photos provides more enjoyment and enlightenment than reading 90% of the books published about Thailand. Mr. Osborne goes on to say that Mr. Cornwel-Smith has “…turned Bangkok into a vast tapestry of meditations on the nature of cities.” Spot on, that.

I’m going to admit to you right now: I did not read every single word in ‘Very Thai’ and ‘Very Bangkok’ in preparation for this review. These are not books you read like novels. These are books you use like encyclopedias. The font is small and there is a LOT to read. You may wish to keep these books on your bedside table and read a chapter every night before you sleep, or keep them on your balcony to read for just as long as it takes to drink your morning espresso, or keep them on the back of your toilet…

If you try to read them like novels you’ll never remember everything. You might not even recognize everything. They’ll be most useful when you’re invited to the Phi Ta Khon festival in Loei, and you have no idea what it is or how you’re supposed to behave there. You’ll want to throw them in your bag when you go visit friends upcountry, or when you come down to the City for a dental appointment. The chapters are all about as long as an in-flight magazine article, and while they’re densely packed with information they’re written in a very engaging and readable prose. Often, even a witty prose. These are books you’ll still be referring to twenty years down the road.

I relied on the “Lonely Planet” guides when I was new in the Kingdom, and these days I suppose everybody has a favorite “influencer” on YouTube who wears a Go-Pro and wanders Soi Cowboy. But nobody, and I mean nobody, but Mr. Cornwel-Smith will quote the guy who wrote his Harvard Ph.D. dissertation about the dirty, tattered, vests that motosai drivers wear. Nobody but Mr. Cornwel-Smith takes dives this deep. Nobody I’ve read, anyway. 

I salute you, Mr. Cornwel-Smith. And I thank you, because you’ve done a huge favor for all of us.

42 likes, 34 comments, 10 shares

I bought a copy of Very Bangkok at the book release event at the FCCT. I recall that in the question period after he gave his remarks I asked him how long he thought the construction boom could go on, and he said something but not really to my point– how long we can keep creating condos that no one lives in, just for various asians to park money in. So the event must have been before the pandemic hit, because it’s a bigger question than ever now. The book marker in my copy is stuck at p. 64, I gave up for a while at that point, because hell, I’m stuck here against my will; but I hope you’ve inspired me to get back to it.

John B Williams

I’m going to try and read this again, and at least a few chapters as you suggest. I’m going to go out today and buy a HUGE magnifying glass since the publishers don’t know how to design a readable book. If I was Mr. Cornwell-Smith I would be hugely annoyed at the designer and never buy him or her a beer again.

Philip Cornwel-Smith

 Yes the print was too small in Very Thai and we increased it in the 2nd edition. Any bigger would have required a total redesign or cutting chunks of text. Very Bangkok is in a much bigger point size.

Antonis Greco Imdb

Excellent writing.. is the semi colon really dead

Christopher Minko

top read mate

Bruce Scott

‘ezz a charmin’ bloke as well

Patty Smith

I want to read these books now!! Nice writing about it, Steve! 

Billy Makin

Beautiful piece

Ken Lambert

Whoever you are you are a great writer 

Greg Currie

Gold where can l purchase these books 

Thanks

Greg Currie

 … I just got them through Amazon

Steve Balogh

 Thanks my friend 

Steve Balogh

I just bought these 2 books based on your review. Cost me AU$93 through Amazon but hopefully worth it. About US$66 I think, so about the same as what you paid. I look forward to an interesting read. 

Steve Balogh

 Sweet saved me a few bucks 

Byron Kirby

 … I will let you have a look as long as you wear white gloves and use a golden pointer stick while reading.

Steve Balogh

 I seldom buy new books. Picked up a used copy of Very Thai on ‘bay $Au 28.19, 2 more copies there for any one else downunder, or UK.

Paul Jabour

I remember buying Very Thai years ago at the airport and was attracted to the colourful cover but now with years passed this quirky and sometimes bizzare account of Thai culture is my norm and somehow makes sense !

Peter Montalbano

A review guaranteed not to make the writer cry. Oh, tears of joy, perhaps . . .

David Collier

We have 5 of the Thailand books in stock.

David Collier

 To be clear, David is saying that they’re in stock at Canterbury Tales book shop in Pattaya. Any members in Pattaya go snap ’em up!

David Collier

Steve – indeed I am….we have a huge selection from thousands of books.

David Collier

 Good to know that your well stocked [and long time] bookshop has survived during these trying times, David. Cheers!!

John Anthony

Just ordered Very Thai. 

Brian Garty

Just ordered from World Of Books, Australia, $28 , great value.

Philip Cornwel-Smith

Many thanks for your review Steve. Much appreciated. I’ll keep trying to dive deep!

Steve BaloghThat worked out well. I bought these two books from Amazon for around $90 for the two and received a $100 gift voucher for locally delivered wines. Made an order and now have a dozen bottles of fine wine valued at more than $300 discounted to $180 wholesale and I only had to pay $80. Looks like I got the two books for free and got heavily discounted wines to drink while reading them. Cheers Steve for the review. 

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An Englishman in… Podcast

Rob Goldstone is an Englishman in … SIAM – Philip Cornwel-Smith Ep 3‪5

By Rob Goldstone

In this episode I am an Englishman in SIAM, for International travellers, the name SIAM conjures up ‘The King and I’, tuk,tuks, temples and Buddha’s.  But what makes Thailand and its capital, Bangkok so very different to a city like London or Paris? With the answer is author and Thailand expert Philip Cornwel-Smith.

Buy Philip’s original Book “Very Thai” here: https://tinyurl.com/ybcskkwt

And his new book “Bangkok In The City of Senses here:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/siam-philip-cornwel-smith-ep-35/id1528028046?i=1000502640026

Find out more about Rob Goldstone: https://isanenglishmanin.com

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Jakarta Post

‘Very Bangkok’: In search of the contemporary in the city of senses

SEBASTIAN PARTOGI, 15 Nov 2020  /  02:59 pm

With a lot of people stressed out by being confined to their homes for months on end during the pandemic, many have started to realize they had previously taken their outdoor adventures for granted.

This, along with the rise of so-called “immersive travel experiences”, has prompted many people in quarantine to dream of being excited by the adrenaline rush of such journeys, where they can activate all their senses by exploring off-the-beaten track attractions in their chosen destinations once again.

Among the many travel books launched this year, is Philip Cornwel-Smith’s Very Bangkok: In the City of the Senses (River Books, 2020), a 360-page captivating homage to Thailand’s capital city by someone who has lived there for over 25 years.

The author: Philip Cornwel-Smith has just published 'Very Bangkok: In the City of the Senses', which takes unique ways of considering why this elusive city is the way it is.

The author: Philip Cornwel-Smith has just published ‘Very Bangkok: In the City of the Senses’, which takes unique ways of considering why this elusive city is the way it is. (Courtesy of Philip Cornwel-Smith /-)

Originally hailing from England, Smith presents a unique half-insider, half-outsider account of the place. Someone used to say that to truly experience a place, it is not enough for you to just experience it in all its glory, you also have to get in touch with the more painful aspects of its residents’ daily humdrums – something that these immersive travelers are desperately looking for.

In a similar vein, the book also gives you a rich sneak peek of how the mundane daily life in Bangkok unfolds, beyond the pad thai and the beautiful pagodas and the shopping malls and the fun nightclubs that the city is most famous for among tourists.

Congruent with its title, the book opens with an account of Bangkok as a city which truly overwhelms all your five senses, with the various smells and tastes coming from the more sacred realm of fresh culinary presentations and food markets on down to the more profane one of air pollution on the streets.

Meaty flavor: For those who like meat in their drinks, Eat Me restaurant makes a cocktail that tastes like the warm salad dish moo larb.

Meaty flavor: For those who like meat in their drinks, Eat Me restaurant makes a cocktail that tastes like the warm salad dish moo larb. (Courtesy of Philip Cornwel-Smith /-)

He also dedicates a full chapter called “Heat and Damp”, giving us a picture of how it feels like to be “hazed” by the city’s tropical temperature – normally hot and humid during the dry season but can also be cooled down by downpours during the monsoon.

Having experienced great cabin fever upon months and months of home quarantine, all of a sudden, the idea of venturing out in the open, taking in the innocent sensuality of the hot afternoon sun stinging your skin or braving a hard rain during a motorcycle ride can sound tempting to so many travelers.

Bangkok is also a city where poor neighborhoods and more luxurious establishments stand side by side. 

On these roads you can witness the socioeconomic inequality at play, the lives of the privileged being brutally contrasted with the less fortunate ones. True “road dogs” who are up for a navigational challenge can also find something to love about memorizing the puzzling routes of the local roads, which do not follow a grid system.

This is why travelers from Jakarta will also find that despite its very distinctive style and nuances, Bangkok’s daily hustle-and-bustle can be shockingly similar to Indonesia’s capital.

Street performance: The Sino-Thais are the majority population of Bangkok. But as society changed, Chinese opera and lion dances started to be performed by a later group of indigenous migrants from Thailand’s northeast region.

Street performance: The Sino-Thais are the majority population of Bangkok. But as society changed, Chinese opera and lion dances started to be performed by a later group of indigenous migrants from Thailand’s northeast region. (Courtesy of Philip Cornwel-Smith /-)

Perhaps this fine balance between familiarity and strangeness between Indonesia and Thailand explains why so many Indonesian tourists have been attracted to visit the place year after year. Data from the Thai Embassy in Jakarta from 2016 revealed roughly 500,000 Indonesian tourists visited Thailand each year.  

Also similar to Indonesia, Thailand comprises a multitude of different ethnic groups and faiths living side by side. The book portrays how the dynamics among these groups play out through accounts of street food, for instance.

Another social identity issue that this book has brought up is that of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Despite many tourists across the globe having a somewhat orientalist view of Bangkok as a “gay paradise” and despite the availability of so many gay clubs in the city, Smith quotes a 2019 Legatum Prosperity Index revealing that Thailand ranked 48 out of 167 for LGBT tolerance.

Yet, the author does not take the quantitative measure at face value as he also mentions that the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center hosted the Spectrosynthesis II, the biggest ever LGBT art exhibition in Asia, in November 2019.

Speaking of the arts, he also provides you a guide to the city’s aesthetics and places you can go to, to take some kind of artistic and intellectual refuge. Yet, as we mention in the beginning, an author can only do some justice to a place when he also addresses local tragedies, which you will typically miss if you only frequent local tourist attractions.

The beautiful, bad and ugly stories from Bangkok are very well captured here, presented in in-depth historical, political, social and cultural context by the author, which link together the city’s historical roots with its current, contemporary state.

Ceremonious: Bangkok is a loud city of modern noise, but also a center of delicate aural culture, such as conch shell blowing in Brahmin rituals.

Ceremonious: Bangkok is a loud city of modern noise, but also a center of delicate aural culture, such as conch shell blowing in Brahmin rituals. (Courtesy of Philip Cornwel-Smith /-)

The historical and political account can also give you contextual sense of the very recent youth-led pro-democratic rallies in the city, which tourists who picture Thailand as a paradise might find puzzling.

If after the pandemic is over you find yourself longing for some extended thrills abroad, you can consider reading this book to guide you to explore Bangkok in its totality.

You are in for some new surprises about the city thanks to Smith’s deep insight into the place, aided by multi-sensory description methods which, again, live up to what he promises readers in the title. 

If you have already been to the city before, the way Smith approaches the Bangkok story here can also inspire you to read more books and learn more about the sociopolitical history and contexts of other destinations as well, so as to enrich your next trip itinerary, wherever that may be. 

Whatever your future plans might be, we can only pray that the day when we will be allowed to travel internationally again will come soon. (ste)

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City Life

A review of Very Bangkok: Unique and pithy insights into the Big Mango by Very Observant Philip Cornwel-Smith

By Aydan Stuart | Thu 5 Nov 2020

As any visitor to Bangkok will know, it’s impossible to avoid the hot mess of sizzling street food, fragrant shrines, putrid canals and never-ending traffic jams. As one of the most complex and complicated cities in the world, just being there can be an overwhelming experience that forces every sense into overdrive. But why is it this way? And what makes Bangkok so, well, very Bangkok?

It is these sounds, sights, tastes and smells of Bangkok that Philip Cornwell-Smith attempts to dissect in his most recent book, Very Bangkok, which expertly explores how every hidden secret and cultural anomaly catches our senses and tickles our curiosity.

Donning his anthropological cap once again, some seven years after his highly-acclaimed second edition of Very Thai—which offers an in-depth exploration of Thai popular culture—Cornwell-Smith again shoots past the obvious and goes straight for the jugular, exposing the real-life spaces, faces and rat races that our technicolour capital hides best.

Guiding you down smelly canals, letting your mind stroll around fragrant gardens, and unmasking your misinterpretations on polluted highways, this well-written and deeply insightful guide to Krungthep Mahanakorn is a coffee table must, and much more besides. Each one of its 360 pages offers honest and visceral insights into the heart of Thailand’s most unique personality. His prose unapologetically frank, full of whimsy, and deliberately evoking.

Describing the city and its many suburbs as one “living, breathing art piece”, he skirts around more obvious topics such as ‘Streetfood’ and ‘Vertical Living’, before exposing new perspectives such as ‘Bang-Pop’, ‘Birdsong’, and ‘Bangkoklyn’. Cornwell-Smith, once again, serves up a dense helping of endless discoveries, picking apart every aspect of daily life and fondly sharing why Bangkok is so quintessentially iconic.

Leaving no stone uncovered, and no taboo unspoken, he explores both the popular and unpopular fame the city attracts. Seedy, sweaty red-light districts make way for auto-amnesiac destructions of history and free-flowing corruption that locals have come to expect and live to exploit. “Krungthep’s liveliness comes from constant churn;” he writes. “It reflects the fact that the city is structurally unstable at deeper levels. Things that most countries consider permanent, shift with surprising ease in Bangkok.”

Yet, as politics increasingly defines what it means to be “Thai”, the shifting political culture and recognition of the people and events that have defined the city’s almost clockwork cycle of protest, election and coup, are diplomatically scant. Instead, Cornwell-Smith focuses on how the overall idea of “Thainess” is evolving and forever being re-defined by society, a theme that plays a prominent role throughout Very Bangkok, just as it did in both editions of Very Thai.

And although a Chiang Mai version of his Very-series would be both fascinating, yet unlikely to make it to the printers, there are more than enough points and tidbits that can tickle the fancies of us Northern folk.

As an ex-Chiang Mai resident sat on a dusty Bangkok balcony, trying to read over the grinding hum of the city below, I was pleasantly surprised to find something on almost every page that evoked a sense of Northern nostalgia.

Marble-clad temples performing Lanna rituals with betel nut offerings and spirals of sai-ua sausages. Provincial-themed street parties that totally disregard the standstill traffic jams around them. Hercules Beetle fighting championships that go deep into the night. Regional transit that has “more jazzy stripes than Paul Smith socks”.

With countless references to the unique and Thai-defining elements that make up the Kingdom, it is no surprise that even those (un)lucky enough to avoid Bangkok altogether, can still pick up on many similarities to their hometown or provincial city sweetheart.

As always, Cornwell-Smith is a master in articulating the unexplainable and shining a light on the invisible. Very Bangkok is a five-star journey through the many tiers of the capital and offers a wide-open window onto the fluorescent pulse of the city. From city sewers to cultural hierarchies, every aspect of Bangkok’s rich identity is laid bare in spectacularly engaging and eye-opening detail.

Get to know Philip Cornwell-Smith in this Citylife interview.

https://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/clg/living/getting-around/a-review-of-very-bangkok/

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Journal of the Siam Society

Reviews: Very Bangkok: In the City of the Senses 

By John Clark, JSS Edition 108

Very Bangkok: In the City of the Senses by Philip Cornwel-Smith, Bangkok: River Books, 2020. ISBN: 9786164510432. 995 Baht.

 Bangkok is one of the most often studied and written about cities in the contemporary world.1 Sometimes ‘Bangkok’ stands by itself as a singular set of urban phenomena (p. 15), as a symptom of other social conditions, as a unique destination for tourist delectation (p. 193). Sometimes discussions of this city function as a stalking horse for yet another representation of progressive globalization (p. 87), or it poses as the ultimately flawed epitome of the ‘Thai’ nation whose outer honour is fanatically defended but which conceals a cruel and nihilistic core (p. 187). ‘Bangkok’ can serve as a symbolic cauldron into which are titrated the liqueous humours of a strangely occult concoction, partly a modern excitatory effluvium, partly an ancient flow from an implacably poisonous, subterranean swamp (pp. 13, 25). 

Cornwel-Smith’s second Thai compilation from fifteen years of further perceptions and recorded glances, after his Very Thai, Everyday Popular Culture (2005),2 is organized as the product of three zones, or modes, of physical perception and display: Senses, Heart, and Face. The text is accompanied by photographs, which he largely took himself and sometimes take over from the text as the bearers of his perception. The written texts are far more insightful than Very Thai, but both books have their origins in the rather breathless Time Out style of the guides he used to edit: a kind of ‘travelling Wikipedia on speed’ without too much interventionist or academic referencing. Nevertheless, Very Bangkok is much more careful in tying its perceptions to other sources, or to more rounded if often critical perceptions, and the index is printed in better-spaced columns, making it more useful and more valid as a traveller’s reference. Unlike Cornwel-Smith’s earlier book, it also includes two particularly detailed maps, a conventional North-South view, and one with a new orientation of Bangkok rightwards and southwards towards the sea.

The longest zone is of the ‘Senses’, with fifty-five subcategories. ‘Heart’ has twenty-six and ‘Face’ has eighteen subcategories, and within these texts about sixty per cent are closed off into mini-essays on special topics like ‘cycling’ or ‘graffiti’. I was a little frustrated at the rather choppy flow until I reached the fourth group of subcategories under ‘Space’, which has the four subcategories, ‘Sanam Luang’, ‘Background City’, ‘Third Places’ and ‘Green Space’. I then began to see the author’s careful imbrication of his material in a number of critiques of urban life, some environmental concerns and notions of different kinds of urban space. One set of examples shows the author’s skill in this area: 

Tiered spaces reinforce social tiers. Rich, middle and poor often live adjacent and may mingle in some public areas, but their worlds barely touch. Each class accesses separate overlapping grids, whether for work, shopping, or socialising, with modes of transit for each class of passenger. (p. 48) 

Foreigners can be oblivious to the social rules of kalatesa [time-space] which govern what’s appropriate to any situation from manners to possessions. (p. 49, in ‘Background City’, ‘City of Levels, p. 46) 

It is, however, difficult in such an apparently haphazard set of different texts to sustain an underlying flow, and the quality of an aleatoric, non-consecutive existence only reappeared, for me, in the later section, ‘Portrayals’, which had six subcategories. This is where the author comes to grips with the fictionality of the city and of its imagined mess, which is somehow liveable and, despite itself, self-sustaining. Cornwel-Smith cites the use of soap opera templates by the prominent author, Veeraporn Nitiprapha, to reveal Bangkok’s ideological blindness. 

If you can understand the myths of love then you can understand the myths of everything, of hatred and of conflicts…..what struck me about the 2010 crackdown is how there were people glad about other people’s deaths. (Veeraporn, p. 309) 

Land. These crises, whatever their historical generation, are also handled by a political and regal symbolic system, which seems only suited to defer or obfuscate them. There is no chapter which handles authoritarianism, in particular that shown in the military massacres on Bangkok’s streets in 1992 and 2010. Cornwel- Smith may think these events would be a political distraction from the subject of experiencing the city through his senses, but they are a real part of the lives of all Bangkokians, even if deflected or obscured in many aspects of daily life. He does handle memory in the section ‘Memory: remembering to forget’, noting that ‘Forgetting is policy. Recent events dissolve before our very eyes, didn’t happen here’ (p, 282), but this may be a too straightforward a formulation for the deliberate and self-interested avoidance by both the perpetrators and their victims. 

Walking about almost any city is likely to trigger associations of historical memory. However, one does not find in Cornwel-Smith’s text the lyrical engagement with the past in Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories of a City,3 that might require a longing, or love, that is slipping out of grasp and is only recuperated by Pamuk’s text and by his mobilization of other photographs and illustrations of a world which has nearly gone. Nor does one see the probing historical mind of late 19th century Northern European visitors to Istanbul, who divide off parts of a city by the period and type of their occupation. One would not know much about Thonburi or its role in the genesis of the Bangkok side of the river from Cornwel-Smith, as one sees clearly the rise of ‘Stamboul’ in Hutton’s Constantinople.4

This lack of a lyrical or a historical thread becomes a very clear impediment with regard to formation of the multi-ethnic nature of Bangkok’s population, which has arrived over time. In Very Bangkok the treatment of ethnicities is spread out, not seen as a particular force given via the nature of late Ayutthaya history, the defeat of the Burmese, and the recommencement of one of many long waves of Chinese immigration (p. 222). Instead, Brahmins and Muslim Thais are handled under the subcategory of ‘Sacred’, but Indian Thais under that of ‘Becoming Bangkokian’, and Thai-Jiin under a mixing concept of ‘Stir-Fry’. This reader lost all sense of a peculiar and place-specific interaction between historical situations and the geographical/geological possibilities of habitation in Thonburi/Bangkok. This is clearly laid out in the book by Van Roy, Siamese Melting Pot: Ethnic Minorities in the Making of Bangkok (2017), which Cornwel-Smith includes in his bibliography but does not actively mobilize.5 Such ethnic variety explains the restricted viability of the concept of ‘Thainess’ like none other, and the casual observer may not so easily sense in Very Bangkok the fictional quality of ethnic categories in the streets and in historical time (p. 297). 

It could be objected that the purpose of Very Bangkok is not to capture ‘Thainess’, but the range of specific experiences and their real-world situations which can be cumulated into ‘Bangkok Thainess’. Unfortunately the multi-ethnicity of Thai society makes one realize that the lack of such an intention will not make the issue of a deceptive and self-interested ‘national essence’ deployed assiduously by the rich and powerful go away (p. 178), whatever level of concreteness any particular set of sensations have given rise to. Indeed, Cornwel-Smith assumes throughout a sort of inclusivist sensibility which, in practice, the reader has no means of affirming. He leaves himself out of the account of his sensations, which, for him, have a directness and purity. It is difficult to believe that inherited cultural habits may allow such perception to be unmediated, however long someone has been in Thailand. 

Despite extensive observations about digital realities (see ‘Feeling digital’, pp. 166- 169, and index, pp. 350, 353), perhaps this book has come too late to examine in depth how digital virtuality functions in the integration of opinion youth cohorts, especially in the urban environment of Bangkok.6 These children and adolescents are now beyond the control of their parents, and increasingly younger cohorts have escaped the insistent ideological training provided by the Thai education system even before University. There is a large set of digital networks among youth, which facilitate or produce the self-positioning affiliations of even younger school children active in recent calls for constitutional reform. ‘Thai’ society is now being integrated beyond the control systems hitherto active.7 It would be useful to know how these circuits are now functioning in Bangkok and whether, or how, they have affected urban identities to any extent. 

What Very Bangkok, brings the reader, apart from its texts, are Cornwel-Smith’s own photographs. Towards the end, he confesses that he is wary of the status of the street photographs he takes because of the posing or reaction to the camera of the street subjects. He queries what has become, from Henri Cartier-Bresson, photographer’s dogma for street photography that emphasises: 

“capturing ‘The Decisive Moment’, the skill of freezing a moment to convey deep meaning.” Given the way that Bangkok street photography can flummox the viewer with ambiguous juxtapositions, it could be said to capture ‘The Indecisive Moment’ (Klongton, p. 311). 

The reader can thus go back to take an open-ended interpretive view of the images he presents. Bangkok now appears as a litany of in-between pauses, which segment and redefine its ambiguous meanings. 

Overall, this is a valuable guide to the sorts of Bangkok one can experience without necessarily forcing the reader to agree with the author. Aside from an understandable reluctance to handle issues to do with royal status or the authoritarianism of the current military regime, it represents a remarkably comprehensive view of Bangkok’s social phenomena as may be encountered in the street. 

John Clark

1 Among more useful texts are: Askew, Marc, Bangkok: Place, Practice, and Representation, London: Routledge, 2002; Hamilton, Annette, “Wonderful, Terrible: Everyday Life in Bangkok”, in Bridge, Gary and Sophie Watson (eds.), A Companion to the City, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000, pp. 460–471; O’Connor, Richard A., “Place, Power and Discourse in the Thai image of Bangkok”, JSS, vol. 78, no. 2, 1990, pp. 61-73; Ünaldi, Serhat, Working towards the Monarchy: The Politics of Space in Downtown Bangkok, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016; Van Roy, Edward, Siamese Melting Pot: Ethnic Minorities in the Making of Bangkok, Singapore: ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute and Chiang Mai, Silkworm Books, 2017. 

All images in this review are from Very Bangkok

2 Cornwel-Smith, Phillip, with photographs by John Goss and Phillip Cornwel-Smith, Very Thai, Everyday Popular Culture, Bangkok: River Books, 2005.

3 Pamuk, Orhan, Istanbul: Memories of a City, London: Faber & Faber, 2005. 

4 Hutton, William Holden, Constantinople: The Story of the Old Capital of the Empire, London: J.M. Dent, 1900, reprinted 1933.

5 See note 1 above. 

6 Cornwel -Smith somewhat simplistically concludes: “Time will tell if digitisation poses an existential threat to the sensory experience of Bangkok or gives it a new flavour’ (p. 169). 

7 On the issue of digital controls, see Aim Sinpeng, “Digital media, political authoritarianism, and Internet controls in Southeast Asia”, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 42 (1), pp. 25-39, 2019. There is some analysis of the role of the internet in forming new youth cohorts in Aim Sinpeng and Janjira Sombatpoonsiri, “New tactics, old grievances in Thai Protests”, East Asia Forum at http://eastasiaforum.org/2020/09/08/new -tactics-old-grievances-in-the-thai-protests/

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Talk Travel Asia Podcast

Episode 111: Very Bangkok with Philip Cornwel Smith

Scott Coates & Trevor Ranges, 22 October 2020

Talk Travel Asia podcast welcomes back Phillip Cornwel Smith to talk about his latest publication: Very Bangkok. There’s no doubt that Bangkok is one of the world’s most visited cities. Its sites are some of the most featured on Instagram, and almost everyone will come up with some mental pictures of the city, good and bad, the moment they hear the name. Founded in 1782 when the Chakri Dynasty established Bangkok as Thailand’s capital, it’s a vibrant, dynamic city that dazzles the senses at every turn. Some love it, others hate it, and all with good reason. Today we’ll explore the City of Angels well beyond the surface with longtime resident and author Philip Cornwel Smith, who will share insights from his book Very Bangkok.

Crazy intersection? Very Bangkok. No traffic? Not so Bangkok! (courtesy of Philip Cornwel Smith)

Trevor & Scott give a quick overview of our time in Bangkok and Thailand, including some of their loves and hates of the city. Scott loves the food, friendly people, variety of transport methods, all sorts of hidden corners and communities; he dislikes constant heat, traffic, lack of green spaces, the smell of salty fish and elephant pants. 

After Trevor gives his love and hate list of Bangkok, which he misses very much, they give their Impressions of Philip’s Very Thai book which was the topic of conversation on Talk Travel Asia Episode 28: Very Thailand with Philip Cornwel Smith. This is followed by a bit of background about the Very Bangkok book.

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Guest Intro: Philip Cornwel Smith

Philip and his wonderful books (photo courtesy of Philip Cornwel Smith)

We’ve been lucky enough to know our guest for quite a long time. Philip Cornwel Smith is originally from the UK but made his way to Thailand in the nineties, quite by accident as many do. He started as the editor of a listings magazine, Bangkok Metro, authored and produced a Timeout Travel Guide to Bangkok and the Beaches, and then made a massive splash in 2005 with Very Thai. In it, he explored many, many quirky elements of Thai life and has since gone to become the ‘go to’ authority on Thainess, despite not being Thai himself. He joins us today from the UK. Welcome again Philip and thanks for making time for us.

Listen to Episode 111: Very Bangkok with Philip Cornwel Smith to hear Philip answer the following questions: 

  • You were last on our show in July 2015 to talk about your other book Very Thai on Episode 28, what have you been up to since then?
  • Before we get to Very Bangkok, has the success of Very Thai surprised you?
  • When did you first get the idea for Very Bangkok and why has it taken 14-years to get to print?
  • What can readers expect to learn from Very Bangkok that they didn’t experience in Very Thai?
  • The subtitle of Very Bangkok is ‘In The City of The Senses’, why did you choose that?
  • You broke the book into some pretty interesting sections: Senses, Heart, and Face; why did you choose those?
  • You also touch quite a number of times on the use of digital sensing and tools to understand the city. How did that come about? 
  • Bangkok is one of the world’s most visited and photographed cities, what do you think are some of the biggest surprises about the city that readers will discover with Very Bangkok? 
  • I found it really interesting that you mention a lack of Bangkok pride amongst its residents. Why is this?
  • You spend a fair bit of time in Bali now, what do you enjoy there that you don’t get when you’re here?
  • What’s next for you Philip?

You can sponsor anywhere from $1/month upwards. These funds will help us cover costs of keeping the show going. Visit PATREON TO DONATE TO THE SHOW or the link from the left-side of our website, or search Talk Travel Asia Patreon. Thanks in advance for supporting the cost and helping to keep the travel talk happening.

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Evil O Podcast

Very Bangkok – Philip Cornwel-Smith in Conversation

The India-Thailand connection: “Very Bangkok” is Philip Cornwel-Smith’s long awaited follow-up to his iconic book “Very Thai”. A longtime cultural observer of all things in Thailand, Cornwel-Smith is keenly aware of a construct of “Thai-ness” that is often quite different to the experienced lives of Thai peoples within their own popular culture. Using a non-Western, non-categorical approach in his new book, he instead looks at popular Thai culture through a multitude of senses. In this rambling conversation he discusses the historical and cultural connections between India and Thailand, Hinduism and Buddhism in Thailand today, why Hinduism has become more popular in Thailand, and how sex and alternative sexual lifestyles are viewed in Thai culture.

https://youtu.be/30ewI0Kq9sM

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Expique

Very Bangkok: Soaking In and Exploring The City of Senses

by Mae Rosukhon & Simon Philipp, co-founders, Expique tours, 15 May 2020Very

You’ve landed in Bangkok – and the smell hits you like a blast. It’s the heat, combined with food, grilled meats, frying chilli and basil, the flower garlands… mixed with traffic exhausts and dank canalways. Smell is the first sense to be assaulted by Bangkok, but certainly not the last. 

Sensing Bangkok may just be the best way to explore it. Why is the capital city of Thailand the way it is? This is the question Philip Cornwel-Smith, the author of Very Bangkok, has set out to answer. A follow-up to the highly-acclaimed Very Thai, his in-depth look at Thai popular culture, Very Bangkok is equally wide-ranging, and captures how Bangkok catches our senses, aware and unawares, delving beyond smell, taste and sound to explore other senses like space and flow, balance, and the heart of being Thai.

“Bangkok is a city with lots of preconceptions and projections,” said Cornwel-Smith at his book launch at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Bangkok (FCCT). “It’s known as the Land of Smiles, and its serene view of itself competes with a sensationalist view of the city.” Bangkok’s nightlife temptations are quite world-renowned but has tended to crowd out other stories of the city, such as of its creativity and design, he also noted.



This is a city that encompasses all and is multi-faceted, multi-tiered, full of charms and temptations, saturated with hues and diverse flavours. Bangkok’s face shows life, all walks of city life, on a rich and stimulating kaleidoscope. It’s no wonder your senses are overwhelmed, but Very Bangkok is the perfect companion to understanding why. And you can take Bangkok in at your own pace through its pages.


This is a guest post by Mae Rosukhon: Co-Founder of Random Thainess and Founder of  http://www.thelanguagebase.com/

Very Bangkok mentions Expique’s tours and translucent roofs in its chapter on Looking: Seeing is not believing – Come join our tours and see Bangkok for yourself!







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Mekong Review

Bangkok Days by Pim Wangtechawat

Vol 5, No 3, May–July 2020 

As someone born and raised in Bangkok, no matter how often I heard outsiders characterise the city a ‘bounty of sensory pleasures’, it always felt as though they were describing a place that didn’t exist. Despite its many mazes, its contrasting shades and sides, to me Bangkok is simply home, a place where you spend your life navigating the traffic, the humidity and the shopping malls. And the nature of home is that it remains the same. However it might feel to others, my Bangkok was stagnant, impervious to progress. And to live in it was to be bound by its sense of uniformity. 

I spent my childhood and teenage years feeling out of place in my own city and yearning to be somewhere else, to belong somewhere else. Other places in the world— whether it be London, Paris, Tokyo, Milan—all seemed rich and intoxicating in comparison. So whenever I heard visitors or friends from abroad rhapsodising about how much they ‘love Bangkok’, I always felt sceptical and detached from their positive sentiment. There are many things about being from Bangkok that these outsiders could never understand—especially the way life is lived here, which, as a young person, I find mundane and stifling. Unless you become an actor or a pop star, your entire ‘ordinary’ life is already laid out before you—a good education, a steady job, a steady income and then a family. 

When I first heard of Very Bangkok, Philip Cornwel- Smith’s follow-up to his popular book Very Thai, I felt similarly sceptical. What could a white Westerner tell me about my hometown that I didn’t already know? What could be gained from a book about Bangkok written in English and meant to be consumed largely by non- Thais? The experiment seemed both futile and clichéd. Would the book, like so many others about Thailand written by foreigners, be concerned with just the ‘touristy’ elements of Bangkok? If not, then how honest and nuanced could it be when it came to discussing what it’s truly like to be a Bangkokian? 

Yet as I started engaging with Very Bangkok, I
began to see that there might be some merit to having as its author someone who hasn’t, to quote author Lawrence Osborne in the book’s foreword, ‘absorbed unconsciously as a child’ the things which make Bangkok unique. By taking on the role of an outside observer, Cornwel-Smith is able to provide a more well-rounded view of Bangkok than a Bangkokian who’s lived in only one area of the city. An example of this is the section on Bangkok’s LGBT scene, which has long been unfairly aligned with the city’s seedy underbelly. ‘Bangkok is my church,’ drag artist Nuh Peace says. ‘In any other religion, if you are queer or different you’re out. But Bangkok accepts you how you are.’ 

True to its title, much of the book is devoted to Bangkok’s ‘sensory pleasures’, and to finding out the causes of the city’s ‘unexplained puzzles’. Filled with photographs of Bangkok and its people, Very Bangkok has three parts: ‘Senses’, ‘Heart’ and ‘Face’. Cornwel- Smith calls Bangkok ‘the world’s most primate city’ and is interested not in simply providing niche knowledge on various historical landmarks but in getting under the city’s skin and making sense of its DNA. Hence these musings, which almost turn Bangkok, a place of ‘very meaty spaces’, into a living, breathing character: ‘a city fretting about the future finds solace in orchestrating the past’, and ‘amnesiac Bangkok is recovering the gaps in its memory’. Many of the observations in Very Bangkok might not be the most flattering to this city of angels, but they are honest and important ones that many Thais haven’t dwelled on or even noticed, partly because they are so ingrained in us. 

Thailand’s class system, for example, has always been a harmful but rarely discussed element of our culture. Very Bangkok notes that both of Bangkok’s electric rail systems, the MRT and the BTS, are ‘off limits to the poor or those with meagre incomes’, with stations directly integrated into affluent shopping malls, unlike bus stops. Religion, too, is put under the microscope, with one of the book’s Thai contributors arguing that Thai religiosity ‘has more to do with nationalism … than philosophical aspects of religion’. Our reverence for seniority is also shown to be harmful, especially to the younger generations. ‘Youth movements require spaces and time’, writes Cornwel-Smith, ‘which are not just lacking, but deliberately curtailed.’ We’re seeing more and more of this as young people attempt to take a greater role in politics. 

The section of the book that I appreciate the most discusses Bangkok’s attitude towards sexuality. In the West, Thailand is often regarded as somewhere to have ‘a good time’, a phrase usually accompanied by a suggestive wink. But this perception of sexual liberation has always contrasted greatly with reality. To quote Cornwel-Smith, Bangkok is more ‘Sin City meets Prim City’. For many Bangkokians, public displays of affection between couples are unseemly; sex is not a topic that is openly or healthily discussed, either in schools or during one’s upbringing. The book also highlights that Thailand has the world’s second- highest rate of teen pregnancy, and that 44 per cent 

of men admitted to having assaulted their partners when drunk. Although Bangkok is perceived to be a bachelor’s paradise, many of its locals are actually living in a society which ‘frowns on female sexuality’. 

Where Very Bangkok could have done better, however, is in its preoccupation with defining ‘Thai-ness’ and ‘Bangkok-ness’. Certain statements from the author and non-Thai contributors—such as ‘for Bangkokians, nothing matters more than to ‘gain face’, for the self, this city, or the nation’, and ‘selfies are a way to get your face out there without fear of losing face’—come across as sweeping generalisations. The quote from Wayne Deakin, a Thailand-based British philosopher, that ‘Thai people are searching for identity’, is not far off the mark. But you can’t help reading it and wishing the conversation could have gone on longer, with more in-depth discussions of what might have caused this condition—perhaps with other contributors, especially those who are Thai, taking centre stage. Cornwel-Smith insists that his ‘status as an outsider is somewhat moot after twenty-five years of experience’. But would the book be different if there had been a native at the helm? 

The answer isn’t straightforward. Last year I moved to Edinburgh. Living in Europe, I’ve found that Bangkok has taken on another role in my life. In many ways, I am now both the outsider and the insider; while the city is still my home, being away from it has simultaneously deepened my appreciation for it and opened my eyes to many of its flaws. Like Cornwel-Smith, I have learned to dissect the city and tried to figure out what lies beneath, leading to questions about the way we’ve been conditioned to view the world and, as Bangkokians, each other: Why do I always get compliments on my pale skin? What is life like for Bangkokians whose ethnicity or sexual orientation differs from mine? Will things ever be better for women or those not born into wealth? 

But despite these flaws—and the city’s inability to address or confront them—I still find myself missing Bangkok. While I don’t miss the traffic or the humidity, I’ve found myself longing for small home comforts, mainly the food, the shopping malls, the language and the people. Now, whenever friends of mine from Europe or the United States ask for my advice on visiting Thailand, especially Bangkok, I encourage them to go. ‘It will be very different what you’re used to, though,’ I always tell them. ‘Different and overwhelming.’ But perhaps that’s what I’ve come to miss most about my city since I’ve been away: the overwhelming sameness of home. ☐ 

Pim Wangtechawat is a Thai writer based in Edinburgh 

Posted in: Blog, Reviews, Very Bangkok,

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Khao Sod English

British Author’s ‘Very Bangkok’ Deftly Dissects Thai Capital

Very Bangkok reviewed by Teeranai Boonbandit, March 5, 2020

BANGKOK — Why do Bangkokians love malls so much and why do they call some Western tourists “bird shit Whiteys?”

These answers can be found in in farang Thai expert Philip Cornwel-Smith’s new book “Very Bangkok,” something between a tourist guidebook and an anthropological encyclopedia. At a recent book launch, Cornwel-Smith said he wants to hold up a krajok hok dan, or six-sided mirror, to the city of eight million.

The term, he noted, was first coined by Luang Phor Toh, a widely-revered monk who is believed to have exorcised the vengeful spirit of Mae Nak who allegedly haunted the community of Phra Khanong.

“We tend to look at a mirror to see our faces reflected back. This prioritizes the face, which is extremely important in this culture,” the British author said. “But Luang Phor Toh conceives that we should consider a sixsided mirror, where all around us are ways of reflecting on our lives and what is happening around us.”

Like a hexagonal mirror, “Very Bangkok: In the City of the Senses” invites readers to not only feel the city with the basic senses such as touch, taste, or smell – but also the phenomena he deemed unique to Bangkok such as the city’s erratic flow of movement.

The first of the three large sections, “Senses” makes up the bulk of the book. 

“This city is pretty wild in the way everything is moving around without an order,” Cornwel-Smith said. “Directions tend to be based on personal landmarks or things that are familiar. There are even three centers of the city to choose from, as different organizations use different places for their kilometer zero.”

But it’s not only the obvious senses that are being discussed in the book, it also includes invisible, undesirable, and supernatural domains.

“The sixth sense is very visible in Bangkok,” Cornwel-Smith said. “There’s a very big subculture of trance in Bangkok as well. It’s not what the authorities are trying to promote particularly, but you would see it happening at a Hindu temple on Silom Road and the vegetarian festival at Chinatown.”

Of course, with all the uncanny sensations that bombard Bangkokians everyday, it seems that they can find an oasis right in front of almost every soi: chains of convenience stores and shopping malls.

And contrary to the popular narrative in Western media that malls “drain the life” out of the city, Cornwel-Smith said he understands why they are popular among Thais.

“I personally think that one of their appeals is that they are cold, very bland, and neutral, offering a relief before we go back out into all of these sensory stimulations,” he said.

And to answer the other question posed at the beginning of this article, Cornwel-Smith explains in the “Backpackers” chapter that “farang kii nok” or bird shit Whitey, is a term Bangkokians reserve for “backpackers who grow blond dreadlocks, bargain too low, pair batik pantaloons with a tie-die vest, and reek of patchouli.”

“Heart” digs into societies and subcultures that make up the city’s melting pot (the “Stir-Fry” section is dedicated to the Sino-Thai). “Face” deconstructs different portrayals of Bangkok, whether they are official (“Project Singapore”), notorious (“Tourist Trappings”), and popular (“Bladerunneresque”).

Cornwell-Smith, who has lived in Thailand 26 years, described his latest work as a “distant cousin” to his first book, “Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture.”

Published in 2005, “Very Thai” has since become one of the best-selling coffee table books about Thailand, thanks to its well-researched effort to define “Thainess” through ordinary and everyday phenomena.

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Bangkok Post (Very Bangkok)

A love letter to a city in flux

Very Bangkok reviewed by Chris Baker, 21 Feb 2020

Philip Cornwel-Smith’s treatise on Bangkok is thoughtful, compelling and affectionate Very Thai (2005) was about things. About teasing the meaning of Thai out of objects and signs, ranging from the sublime symbolism of Thai design to the question why the paper napkins in all everyday Thai eateries were pink in colour and stupidly small in size.

Philip Cornwel-Smith’s long-awaited sequel is very different. It is entirely about people. The physical city is a backdrop to its residents, sojourners and visitors. Though Bangkok is a subset of Thai, this book is bigger and weightier. The author and his assistants have talked to lots of people — from artists to administrators, from visitors to vendors, from the enthusiastic to the appalled.

The author’s personal biases are clear to see. There is scarcely a page that does not circle back to food, music or the creative fringe, while the temples that crowd the tourist guidebooks appear only if they host an art installation. But the coverage is remarkable for its range and its depth. There’s a lovely page on blossom. Very Bangkok is serious, thought-provoking, and fun.

As a subject, Bangkok is a problem because it does not stand still. Over the couple of decades of this book’s gestation, the city has probably doubled in size and changed radically in culture. Before the millennium, it still had a private, parochial, self-absorbed feel. Now it is a global city, transformed by the falling cost of travel, by the quiet relaxation of restrictions on foreigners after the 1997 crisis, by the massive promotion of tourism and by the confidence of a new Thai generation to welcome the world. Apart from anything else, this book tracks the transition from parochial to global beautifully.

The book is organised into three sections, labelled Senses, Heart and Face. Senses records the city as experienced by its residents and visitors, starting with the assault on the nose, ranging from tropical flora to pitiful waste disposal. It moves on to the sense of space in the chaos contrived by weak government, resistance to any kind of planning, serendipitous architecture and catastrophically inadequate public infrastructure, especially for transport.

Bangkok is a mess and “development” has only turned it into a bigger mess. But mess can be fun. The new floating and semi-floating population of outsiders, mostly quite young and quite wealthy, have recreated Bangkok as a playground with a focus on food, music and nightlife. A generation of Thais borne up by the pre-1997 boom have happily joined in, rekindling the sense of sanook which had seemed on the wane.

The second section, Heart, presents a catalogue of the city’s extraordinary ethnic diversity. During the violent 20th century, Bangkok offered refuge for all kinds of groups who lost out in the Great Nationalisation. Since the 1960s, the city has sucked in labour from the provinces, especially the Northeast, and from neighbouring countries, especially Myanmar.

The big story has been the rise of the Chinese. They have been a major part of the demography and dominant in the economy since the city’s early years, but were culturally and politically restrained by narrow nationalism and powerful bureaucracy. Since the 1990s, driven by the community’s wealth and the rise of China, they have shucked off those restraints and made their mark on everything from food to language to tastes in looks and architecture.

In parallel, the old communities in the city centre have been gradually eroded by the logic of the real estate market, the susceptibility of timber to rot, and the changes in taste, technology and lifestyle. Cornwel-Smith captures this elegantly in a description of the last few craftsmen who make monks’ alms bowls in the traditional way. The brutal destruction of the Mahakan Fort community was a symbol and a turning point. Cornwel-Smith wonders aloud what “Thai” means when its physical expression is being destroyed, and what remains is being museumised by officialdom, the tourist industry and Big Retail in projects like Iconsiam.

In the final section on Face, the background theme is the struggle over the city’s future, a struggle between order and chaos, between authoritarianism and the freedom to be creative. On the side of order is the middle class, which idealises Singapore as a model, the bureaucracy which wants to impose rules and the military politicians who like telling people what to do. On the side of chaos is the new generation which grew up in a globalising Bangkok and who have come to enjoy its freedoms and opportunities. On this side too is the new floating population, and most of the tourists, who told the shocked Tourist Authority through a survey that what they come for is the chaos.

In the backwash of the 1997 crisis, which temporarily loosened the grip of both big government and big business, there was an outpouring of creative energy in an “indie” movement of creative crafts, fashion design, music festivals and hipster markets. Though authority returned with a thump, the momentum of this movement has survived.

With Bangkok now so open to the world, the guardians of the national culture are worried over the city’s “face”. But the portrayal of Bangkok has slipped out of their control. Twenty years ago, critical novels and memoirs about Bangkok could be counted on a pair of hands. Now you could fill the wall of a bookshop. The authors include Thais writing in both Thai and English, along with foreigners from all over. As Cornwel-Smith records in great detail, the trend in film, creative arts, music and humour is much the same.

Towards the end, Cornwel-Smith waxes optimistic, raising the possibility that the projects to be completed by the city’s 250th anniversary in 2032 will make the city more liveable by tapping the creative talent which he documents, and by listening to what the city’s residents want. But a page later, he wonders whether by then the city will be slipping under rising sea levels from global warming.

Very Bangkok is crammed with information, but delivered like a friend in an informal chat rather than a teacher with a script. This tone invites readers to think about Bangkok but also about cities in general and especially about the new breed of Global City. Cornwel-Smith is clearly on the side of “messy urbanism”. He lives here because he loves it. What comes across, and what makes this a great book, is that love.

https://www.bangkokpost.com/life/arts-and-entertainment/1862459/a-love-letter-to-a-city-in-flux

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Art4D (on impact of book)

Review post on Facebook by Art4D editor.

Since the first edition of Very Thai was published in 2005, the book has become influential to a great number of people in the design industry. Perspectives have been broadened as many take a different look at everyday objects in the city they live in. The mundaneness has been given new values. But in an even bigger picture, the term ‘Very Thai’ has become a description that people use to express quintessential Thai characteristics of an objects, place or to define certain behaviors. To us.’very Thai’ is like a ‘grey area’, it doesn’t always denote the notion of ‘greatness’ conventionally defined by the state. At the same time, it doesn’t necessarily possess any meanings that are entirely ‘negative’.

art4d had a chance to sit down with Philip Cornwel-Smith, the author of both the editions of Very Thai that was released respectively in 2005 and 2013. We were interested in what he had witnessed throughout his 25 years of living in Thailand. Our conversation jumps from a recollection of Bangkok before the birth of Very Thai, to his observations on ‘Thainess’ all the way to the ‘self’ of the city such as Bangkok.

Originally published in the supplement of art4d No. 266. Meet art4d at the Architect’19 at F205-1, 10th post. Until May 5th 2019 at Challenger Hall 1-3, Impact Muang Thong Thani

Read on art4d.com/2019/05/looking-through-very-thai
_

Interview by piyapong bhumichitra / Kanokwan Trakulyingcharoen / paphop kerdsup
Photo: Ketsiree Wongwan 

#art4dREAD #art4d

art4d READ : Looking Through Very Thai

หลังจากที่ Very Thai ฉบับแรกถูกตีพิมพ์ในปี 2005หนังสือเล่มนี้ได้ส่งอิทธิพลต่อคนในอุตสาหกรรมสร้างสรรค์ไม่น้อย มันเปิดมุมมองให้ผู้คนได้มองสิ่งของในเมืองต่างไปจากเดิมและให้คุณค่ากับสิ่งเหล่านั้นมากขึ้น ในภาพที่กว้างกว่านั้น คำว่า Very Thai กลายมาเป็นคำที่คนทั่วไปนำมาใช้เรียก สิ่งของ / กริยา / พื้นที่ประเภทหนึ่งที่ “ไทย” มากๆ เราคิดว่าคำว่า “ไทยมากๆ” มีความหมายเทาๆ เพราะมันไม่ได้หมายถึง “ความดีงาม” แบบเดียวกันกับความเป็นไทยที่รัฐสถาปนาขึ้นมา แต่มันก็ไม่ได้มีความหมายในแง่ลบแต่อย่างใด
art4d มีโอกาสได้สัมภาษณ์ Philip Cornwel-Smith ผู้เขียน Very Thai ทั้งสองฉบับที่ตีพิมพ์ในปี 2005และ 2013 ถึงสิ่งที่เขาเห็นตลอดระยะเวลา 25 ปี ที่เข้ามาใช้ชีวิตอยู่ในประเทศไทย ตั้งแต่การย้อนกลับไปพูดถึงบรรยากาศในกรุงเทพฯ ก่อนและหลังการตีพิมพ์ Very Thai ทั้งสองฉบับ ข้อสังเกตของเขาต่อคำว่า“ความเป็นไทย” ไปจนถึงตัวตนของเมืองกรุงเทพฯ เอง
บทสัมภาษณ์จากหนังสือเล่มเล็กที่มาพร้อมกับart4dเล่มที่ 266 สามารถหาซื้อได้ใน งานสถาปนิก’62 ระหว่างวันที่ 30 เมษายน – 5 พฤษภาคม 2562ที่ชาเลนเจอร์ฮอลล์ อิมแพ็คเมืองทองธานี (พิกัด: art4d ตำแหน่ง F205-1เสาต้นที่ 19)

อ่านได้ทาง art4d.com/2019/05/looking-through-very-thai

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Art4D (interview)

Looking Through Very Thai

Art4D magazine interview supplement explains beyond the book.

An interview Philip Cornwel-Smith did with the architecture and design magazine Art4D on his 25th anniversary in Bangkok they turned into a free 32-page colour booklet! In both English and Thai, it goes into depth about the book and its effects, and probes his thoughts about Bangkok city for their issue theme of ‘Urban Reflections.’ It is an experimental new format for Art 4D, so thanks to the Art4D team for your generosity. It was great working with you. #verythai #verybangkok

For the full interview in English and Thai, please go to:

http://art4d.com/2019/05/looking-through-very-thai?fbclid=IwAR2Awh3TbNToEIAZjRMf-nXpT8fShX2vHDLxrE-XMUopOwjL4nfq6RlsLoA

All pictures courtesy Art4D

Posted in: about the book, Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #art4D #behindthescenes #supplement 

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

Posted in: Article, Blog, Reviews,

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 

The Nation (news feature)

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

 

Posted in: Article,

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 (Inclusion)

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/

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

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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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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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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John Burdett: A Greater Sense of Thailand

Our Thailand Top Ten. Books specially selected by John Burdett

Very Thai – Philip Cornwel-Smith

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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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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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Lonely Planet Thailand

VT in Lonely Planet BKK

Recommended Cultural Readings

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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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Moon Guide to Thailand

20140626-image-3


Recommended Reading: Culture

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

— Suzanne Nam

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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

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 11.29.34 Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 11.29.24

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.

 

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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

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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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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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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

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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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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…)

Posted in: Reviews,

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 

Les Guides d’état du monde: Thaïlande

Review in French guidebook by Arnaud Dubus.

Bibliographie

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture. Un ouvrage superbement illustré sur l’univers thaï-thaï (typiquement thaï) avec de longs textes explicatifs.

Translation: A superbly illustrated book on the Thai-Thai universe (typically Thai) with long explanatory texts.

Published in 2011 by La Découverte.

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Tags: #French Guidebook 

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…)

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

Tags: #Bangkok #features #international #interviews 

TTO (Traversing The Orient)

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #book #features #magazine #reviews 

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…)

Posted in: Reviews,

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

Posted in: Reviews,

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

 

Posted in: Reviews,

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

 

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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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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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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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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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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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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

BKK Post mag PCS intv 04-1029 1 copy BKK Post mag PCS intv 04-1029 2 BKK Post mag PCS intv 04-1029 3 copyBKK Post mag PCS intv 04-1029 4 copy BKK Post mag PCS intv 005 copy

 

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Tags: #Bangkok #interviews #magazine