Thaipography

“To loop or not to loop? That is the question typographers face when making a new Thai font. It’s a design decision, but one that twangs a tension in Thai identity.”

My article in the November issue of TheMagazine by the Bangkok Post covers the surprisingly controversial topic of typography in Thailand. On newsstands now.

Thaipography image by Anuthin

here&now-issue11-adjusted layout

Posted in: Blog,

Tags: #culture #design #magazine #Thailand #tradition 

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

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Blog, Reviews,

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

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 

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 

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…)

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #Lanna #magazine #reviews 

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 

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 

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 Irrawaddy

What Makes Thais Tick?

Cornwel-Smith provides some entertaining insights

By Bertil Lintner

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

(more…)

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Tags: #book #international #magazine #reviews 

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…)

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #magazine #reviews #Thailand 

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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Tags: #book #features #international #magazine #PullitzerPrize #reviews 

Asia Books magazine

Literary events: Very Thai book launch

River Books publishing and Asia Books, Thailand’s leading English-language publisher and distributor, welcome guests at the launch of Very Thai at Jim Thompson House.

VT AsiaBks mag 05-02004

Posted in: Blog, Events, Reviews,

Tags: #book #endorsements #features #launch #magazine #parties #Thailand 

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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Tags: #magazine #reviews #Thailand 

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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Tags: #Bangkok #book #French #magazine #reviews #Thailand 

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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Tags: #Bangkok #international #magazine #reviews #Thailand 

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

 

Posted in: Reviews,

Tags: #Bangkok #interviews #magazine