CHRONICLES OF ABYSNNIA

I have landed in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, Kenya’s neighbor to the north. The journey was a two hour flight from Nairobi on board Ethiopian Airlines, Boeing 767-300.

Ethiopian by the sunset

Ethiopian by the sunset

Having heard so much about Ethiopian  and noticing that the Airline is infact a 5 –star Alliance  member, I expected an ‘out –of this world’ experience, but alas..that was not to be.. I will blame the short flight for this – a longer journey will afford me an opportunity to savor the ‘world class service and possibly the beautiful cabin crew’.

Bole International Airport oozes relatively superior class than its counterpart – Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) – Nairobi. The exterior and interior works present a relatively finer finish and portray a sense of greater utilization of space, akin to more use of Negative space as opposed to the more congested JKIA. The immigration process and baggage collection is much smoother and admirably quicker.

I need to mention that JKIA recently experienced a massive fire that consumed several arrival and departure sections leading to a number of cancellations and rendering operations at the Airport rather tipsy turvy.

I arrive at my destination at 9.30 pm from the Airport, a journey that took approximately 25 minutes. Addis is chilly, wet this time of the year. Despite major parts of the way from airport being engulfed in darkness, I can’t fail to notice developments in infrastructure in enhanced road network and works in progress towards the introduction of sky-train services.

“The Chinese are here” my host chirps in, responding to my admiration at the country’s efforts towards offering a relatively superior road network. Makes it sound like the Chinese ‘have landed from another planet’. I am promised that with my stay, I will soon realize what the expression ‘influx of Chinese’ really means.

I am holed up at a guest house opposite the Astrada hotel,in the greater Riche’/Lancha My first night is rather uncormfortable, trying to acclimatize to a bed and bedsheets I am unaccustomed to. I have managed to pick up an Ethio telecom line and top up, for $20 and called my family to notify them of my safe arrival.

Morning starts with cold water streaming from the shower. Considering the chilly conditions, I take the ‘passport solution’ – face, hair, shoulder, armpits clean up and I am good to go.

Breakfast at the Astrada is a whole new experience – Innjera (face towel looking Ethiopian bread), pieces of traditional pizza, boiled egg, some Irish potatoes and more spicy tasty bread and very strong Ethiopian coffee… It dawns on me that food will be a an issue that I will need to face up to..

In the course of the day, I visit Piassa, a section of town, whose name derives its origins from Italian inhabitants back in the 19th. Century. The streets in this part of town I notice are dominated by gold and silver merchants, from neck chains, bracelets,rings..you name it, you will find it at.. Piassa is Egoli here!!..

I am given a tour of other sections of town…the names and sites are yet to be absorbed in memory.. a few more days and we meet here for more updates of the land once referred to as Abyssnia….

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CHRONICLES OF U.G.

REDISCOVERING UGANDA

Here I am, 3 weeks to date in a land that once laid claim (still does) to the phrase, The Pearl of Africa. Located in the Eastern part of Africa, lying to the South of the Sudan, East of Kenya and bordering the expansive Congo and Tanzania to the West and South respectively, welcome to a proud Nation called Uganda…U.G to many 

Uganda, a landlocked country in the heart of Africa, shares the waters of Lake Victoria (2nd largest fresh water lake), considered the source of the mighty River Nile, with both Kenya and Tanzania.

The name Uganda derives its origins from ancient Buganda Kingdom of the Buganda people that flourished in the land in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The Buganda Kingdom stood out as the dominant monarchy amongst other dynasties that included the Bunyoro and Busoga.

Recent times in Uganda history include power struggles, most famous in the late 1970s and early 1980s during and after Dictator Idi Amin’s reign of terror.

So much about history, this is actually meant to be a personal account of my observations, learning, interaction and experience during my stay here.

THE COAT OF ARMS / THE FLAG
I have taken quite an admiration to The wordings that feature in the coat of arms , “For my God and my Country”. The phrase seems to ooze some sense of patriotism and sounds like a clarion call to the citizenry to rally together for their country.

File:Coat of arms of the Republic of Uganda.svg

The country’s flag is adorned in Yellow,black and red, with the official recognized Emblem being the Crane bird.

Thumbnail for version as of 00:26, 9 February 2012

 CAPITAL CITY
With a total population approximated at 36 Million,Uganda would be considered a relatively small Nation relative to its neighbours that constituted the original East Africa Community i.e Tanzania and Kenya.

Kampala City is the country’s capital city with a population just shy of the 2 Million mark. Kampala has been widely referred to be the city in the hills,with key landmarks being numerous hills.

Overlooking the city suburbs from Lubowa

Overlooking the city suburbs from Lubowa

It is no surprise to notice residential houses,private and government offices ‘competing’ for spaces / occupancy of sections atop the numerous hills in the city. It is considered ‘prestigious’ to occupy residence ‘above’ other city dwellers,a concept widely believed to have been picked up from the early day monarchies that had Kings seek to locate their ‘palaces’  overlooking their subjects.

An interesting aspect of the capital city is the presence of thousands of motor bikes(boda boda) considered to be a quicker and cheaper alternative to cabs and other public service vehicles. See, Kampala is rapidly growing alongside the country’s economic outlook expected to grow over 6% this year.

Previously shunned or overlooked,Uganda is quickly emerging as an ideal investment destination. Despite having been in power since the ouster of the notorious Idi Amin over 30 years ago,the current President Mr. Yoweri Museveni is credited with having overseen to a relative calmness and economic recovery in Uganda.

Metroplex Mall - Naalya

Metroplex Mall – Naalya

Kampala’s skyline is now witnessing the opening of new buildings and entry of regional retail giants such as Nakumatt, Uchumi,Mr Price. This has seen to the rise of a middle class,targeting to be where the action is,i.e Kampala leading to near status of congestion. Motor bikes or Boda Bodas have literally ‘invaded’ the city as an alternative and preferred but unchecked means of ‘public’ transport.

…Of the Police…..in White and all

Hard to miss in Kampala’s landscape are the cops in white..Traffic police save for their boots and caps are resplendent in white uniform and discernible from miles away. I am yet to understand why white of all colours would be chosen as the preferred uniform for the ‘men in blue’.. I guess the term here should be the ‘men in white’

I would be stretching to far if I was to describe the country as a “police state” from the little I have picked out so far,yet the numerous uniformed and armed men in various military fatigues that I have come across offer no consolation otherwise.

Open decked Toyota Landcruiser vehicles dot the Kampala roads with no less than 4 officers seated on a uniquely constructed bench rest at the rear of vehicle. These are also used as patrol cars, escorting dignitaries, Senior government officials from one end to another.

License to party..amidst police watch..

License to party..amidst police watch..

Kampala evening traffic - Entebber Road

Kampala evening traffic – Entebbe Road

Different police units are identified separately by the uniforms they wear,from the
charcoal green / khaki to the more common dark blue military fatigued police
officers

The Social Scene

I have been told that nobody in the East African region parties like Ugandans do. Sample this… Waragi  is the widely acclaimed local Vodka; Weekends can see to Music clubs blazing their music until 2.00 am , proximity to residential houses notwithstanding.

Some of the biggest and well paid artistes in the region are from U.G, the biggest names going by the names – Chameleone,Bebe Cool and Bobi Wine.

The gossip mills are filled with tantalizing  tabloids like the enticing Red Pepper, with stories that seek to incriminate politicians,clergy and music celebrities.

Perusing them tabloids over bottle of "Bell' Lager

Perusing them tabloids over bottle of “Bell’ Lager

Football(Soccer) is the most followed and loved sport in the country. Many people can easily relay the nation’s football team (Uganda Cranes) line up,unlike other countries where much affection is extended to foreign players especially in the European leagues. The Uganda Cranes T-shirts that come in Yellow,black and white are often adorned by many soccer lovers in the country.

The People,Culture,Weather..

English is considered as Uganda’s official language. The language is a key communication tool as early as grade school all through to University. It is therefore a welcome attribute that from as low as sentry,boda boda taxi driver or househelp would have a fair  command of the English language.

As  many African communities,Ugandans – the ones I have interacted with are generally a friendly lot. Depending on your engagement in the country, official duty, evangelical or touristic,you are sure to sense different reception that border from slight hesitation/suspicion (official), co-operation(evangelical) or politeness/friendliness (tourism).

Majority of the people in Uganda are Christians. Stories are told and references made of early Christian Missionaries and explorers e.g John Speke who made their way to the heart of Africa on exploratory as well as evangelical missions.

Pilgrimages are now made to the famous Namugongo Martyrs shrine, where 22 converted African Christians were Martyred in 1886 by the orders of the Buganda King for failing to renounce Christianity.

Martyrs' shrine - Namugongo

Martyrs’ shrine – Namugongo

Unlike many African nations that bear the burden of drought and famine.. Uganda seems to have steered off such epidemics. The country is endowed with natural resources,with rainfall being a great addition to  all year round agricultural sustainability.

A meal will not be considered a proper Ugandan dish if Matoke (Mashed banana) – a delicacy here,cassava,sweet potato,beans and peanut sauce served with fish or fried beef is missing. Needless to say,this is quite a mouthful that leaves one quite ‘overwhelmed’.

Will you make it through lunch?

Will you make it through lunch?

Humid,hot and rainy best describes the weather experienced so far. Sweaters or heavy jackets are rarely worn in Kampala,so one is better placed not carrying too much stuff when visiting the city.

So much for my introductory notes and insights on Kampala and U.G as a whole. Hope to pick out as much as possible for sharing during my stay. Would be interesting to hear experience from those visiting,living or who have made a stop over to the country…

Tunaalabagana!! … See u soon.

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Celebrating a King Birthday..Thai Kingdom Come Part 7

Billboard features tribute to The King

Billboard features tribute to The King

The 5th. of December caught me by surprise… Here I was on the ready to go to work on a Tuesday morning..I had decided to have my favourite blue jeans on,pair them up with my new brown leather shoes and blue stripped shirt. I decided to send a whatsapp message as usual to my pal, to confirm whether I can bank on her for a ride to the office..but alas,she informs me its a public holiday…. “We are celebrating Father’s Day – the King’s Birthday!” she says..

Oh my word…I had noticed that  a number of buildings were covered in royal symbols and His Majesty’s portraits a few days earlier but I had not connected this to being Thailand’s version of Father’s Day.

His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, officially referred to as the Rama IX,was born in 1927 and has reigned since 9th. June,1946 making him the longest-serving monarch. According to a recent review by the Independent online edition of the U.K, ..‘Despite 28 changes of Prime Minister, 15 coups and 16 constitutions, he has
remained there for the 66 years since.’

The monarchy in Thailand has a rich history dating to 7 dynasties..this is fascinating stuff for any historian. The current King’s reference as Rama IX denotes him to the Chakri dynasty that dates back to 1782,to the first Rama I. This as I mention makes interesting reading fodder..I am beginning to appreciate the historical sites and monasteries that connect the Thai people to their very rich heritage.

King image

King Bhumibol is highly revered and loved by his people. I have read numerous articles crediting him for starting or helping to start many foundations and  projects to improve the life of his people notably the rural folk. portraits of the King are a common item in different places such as schools,hospitals,coffee shops,monasteries and even offices,probably showcasing what a major influence he has been in different spheres of Thai culture.

What has fascinated me the most however has been the almost unanimous reverence of the King as a tower of strength,inspiration to a majority of Thai people in all walks of life. In the 21st. Century,such  esteem is hard to come by..politicians will often be mocked and criticized in public. The Monarchy in England  or is it Great Britain, I believe has undergone mockery and scrutiny in the recent past. That is something I tend to believe would be difficult to witness with the Thai Royal family.

So this year 2012, saw a rare address by the King to thousands,yellow polo shirt/top clad masses (yellow indicated devotion to the monarch) gathered outside the Bangkok Royal Plaza. He has been in failing health and has spent more time in hospital over the past 3 years. A recent visit by President Obama to the region,saw him meet up the King at the Siriraj Hospital.

Potrait of the King with the King of Rock n Roll

Potrait of the King with the King of Rock n Roll

I find it hard to think of a nation that rivals Thailand in having a people (70 million plus,generation to generation) rallying solidly behind their leader in heart and soul for over 6 decades. If there is one,please let me know.

Meanwhile,here is to wishing the King Bhumibol good health and many more years to inspire this great nation. Happy 85th. Birthday >>>> Long Live the King!!

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..Of Charity Events in Ayutthaya..Thai Kingdom Come Part 6

Bus photo

The weekend is here again in the Land of smiles. I congratulate myself as I realize I have gone a whole month without indulging in the alluring Bangkok nightlife,heck i can’t remember the last Singha or Chang I took. I guess this supports the case that probably we indulge alot in fun/crazy times in the midst of well intending but misleading friends..is that what they call being influenced by peer pressure?

Anyhow,as the topic suggests I am up to a good cause today – Feeling Mr. Nice guy. Alongside newly made friends and colleagues on this part of the world,a trip to Bangkok’s surburbs has been arranged in support of one corporate intiative referred to as the Bata Childrens’ Program(BCP). I take it that being well into the festive season,alot of CSR activites roll about this time..with the BCP program purposefully targeted for underprivelged school going kids around the world.

Bus 2

I enjoy my bus ride to the suburb area of  Ayutthaya.I am told that this was the former capital city of Ancient Thailand i.e Siam, well over 2,000 years ago.Wait,I have to mention this is my first ride on a double deck bus,no much difference from an ordinary ground floor bus ride whilst on the inside,yet staring  the bus from the outside,leaves me with a slight feeling of inner triumph – talk about a first, yaey!

The bus ride takes a cummulative 2 hours I guess,factoring a 20 minute loo stop over at one of the gas stations enroute. Two T.V sets are on the upper deck of the bus,(did’nt check the lower one). Thai love their music,thus a number of Thai music videos are played to the delight of everyone,with the ‘karaoke like’ lyricals as subtitles. The choregraphy of most of the videos look quite impressive I must say. Luckily however,I have a copy of a book I have been reading, “Pattaya,Patpong on Steriods” by Duncan Stearn, an interesting coverage of the go-go bar scene in the resort city of Pattaya – Interesting read.

The Charity Event

Finally arrived at the  Watpramoong School. Ayutthaya presents an upcountry sort of scenary..less high rise buildings,more of rice paddy plantations.The area was severely affected in the 2011 flush floods that engulfed the Kingdom,number of homes were submerged,property lost..can’t imagine water levels reaching 4 feet height levels!

I have not participated in many charity events in the past. I am more of a passive particpant I guess,what with availing clothing,food stuff when my local church comes calling or announces this in the ‘weekly briefing’.On reflection,on a corporate level I have not been much of an active participant either..my mind has always been focussed on delivering business results while hoping that there will be volunteers to make enough numbers for the charity events….

Smiling,Innocent faces

Wai Wai 2

Alighting from the bus and approaching the tent for briefing of the day,we are welcomed by smiling innocent faces of boys and girls between ages 5 and 12 years. Now not many greetings come as close to the Wai,in terms of showing respect and gracefulness.The Wai is the gentle bow with hands clasped in an angelic,prayer like format. Coming from the 200’ish kids gathered,there is an almost transmutation of ‘we are deeply honoured by your coming’, that seems to sweep the air.. dont see that in many kids nowadays huh..!

Assignments

With the introductions and customary protocol over,the group of around 100 who have made the trip are invited to join the different segments of volunteer work available. Cooking,Farming,Planting and Painting are up for grabs. I love to eat,not cook..I like to to live in a painted house but not to paint..so I will skip those two..my lizard brain comes calling.

ImageKalesTree planting

Farming and planting appeals to me,I come from a people who are natural farmers..so I think that is endearing enough..Then again,i have been working on set of body muscles,so the activity and the sweat will do me good!!!

And a natural I am,my farm skills are evident,the way I till the soil,break the small boulders,level the ground and sprinkle water is definately way above average for this city dweller. Two hours later,our farm project is complete,with an additional top up of planting trees within the compound,playing some soccer and chipping in with the paint work…..ok,not much,the painting appeared to need some fair amount of skill.

Lunch

Lunch time

They say the way to a man’s heart,is through his stomach..I reckon the way to a Thai’s heart is through good Thai food. And that my friends we just could not have enough of..the dishes kept coming..from fish to chicken,broccoli,fruit you name it. I will admit that I am rather poor in describing Thai cuisine,I just basically indulge in it..knowing the basic dish to look out is rice and chicken with an array of sauces..I love those.

But what made the lunch more fascinating was the joyful atmosphere,the smiles and interest in ensuring that eveyone is eating their full. I have come to appreciate the little bowls used in having your meal,that the syntax is all about serving your amount of rice for instance,then topping it up with some chicken,the soup and some sauces..once you finish,you repeat again and this time try a hand on fish,then some vegetables..and the cycle repeats itself, be sure to be alerted if your bowl appears empty,someone will be ready to hand you the rice bowl for a refill.

The  ‘I did good’ feeling

Have you ever felt the desire to fulfil something gratifying? Many of us are accustomed to going to a church,mosque,temple… to connect with a superior being in the hope of getting blessings, your heart desires.

Volunteer

My take home has been that you can do so much more than the mainstream..A connection or time with  a 5 year old who does not enjoy  3 meals  a day or with a kid who does not know the father, can definately leave a positive mark in that child’s life.

So as Christmas beckons,I choose to do much more than take the ‘comfy backseat’,while someone else walks the talk.

I thank you for taking time to read this. I hope you enjoyed my story and hopefully,that you will do something  small in your own way that is sure to impact someone in a Big way. Talk about good Karma!!

To learn more and participate in a cause to change and improve the life of kids in different countries, please visit..http://www.batachildrensprogram.org/

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The Muay Thai Craze – Thai Kingdom Come Part 5

Muay Thai Winner on Thai TV

I have mentioned before, my fascination with various sport such as Soccer (Football),Basketball,Tennis,Rugby,Athletics and Boxing. What I did not know or rather was not well acquainted, is a sport with a near fanatic following,in the South East part of Asia, Thai Boxing.

What rugby is to Australia and South Africa, what soccer is to the English,or what baseball is to America,what the Marathon is to the Kenyan,or probably cricket to India, Muay Thai is to the Kingdom of Thailand. The legions of fans and anticipating faces glued in front of television screens on Sunday afternoons leaves one with little doubt how Thai care deeply and take pride in their ‘national sport’.

I had watched a few bouts on T.V a while back even before knowing I will one day tour the land of smiles,yet the level of brutality exerted by competitors did not endear me to the sport at all. If you thought ‘normal’ boxing is bad enough,try watching some bouts here of its ‘cousin sport’ >> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yPfukurJdw

So I become amazed that such a brutal sport flourishes in a country where a majority of citizens seem so humble,polite and yes…smiley..??!!. But alas,this combative sport I soon find out dates back close to 1,000 years,hence a tradition,better still the heritage associated with the sport.

Reference of Muay Thai as the Art of Eight limbs – the eight contact points of the fists,elbows,knees and feet is quite interesting. This further cements the brutality angle I have always associated with the sport,what with the inclusion of knees and elbows, makes me cringe – instinctively reaching out for my groin area for protection. I have seen the devastating effects of knees and elbows only in martial arts experiments using bricks and wood,yet can not recall these being used in actual combat,until now!

Having noticed the interest and frenzy that the bouts create just on television alone,I decide to attend a live match at the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium,the heritage of Muay Thai in Bangkok am informed. From the outside,across the street while approaching the stadium,one gets the opportunity to witness fighters(I think that should be correct way of referring to them) undertaking their work outs and warm up before show time.

Live matches run on Friday from 6.30 pm and Saturdays from 4.00 pm and 8.15 pm according to the Lumpini Boxing website. Visitors(non-residents) unfortunately are required to pay 10 times what locals pay to watch these live bouts. I was expected to pay 3,ooo Baht (approx. $100, with no popcorn!) while residents/locals pay 300 Baht ($10); It felt like a rip off and unfortunately,I had to let go of this opportunity. Maybe the glaring disparity of “Locals – 300 Baht” “Foreigner – 3,000 Baht”  on various  pay booths put me off; hopefully there will be someone in authority to rectify this anomaly.

However,all said and done,am still looking forward to attending a live event soon,albeit in a fairly priced venue. In the meantime,I keep engaged via my television set, watching a few matches occasionally  when I get the time. I think my consolation has been that if families including kids can keep up and actually initiated to the sport from early age, it’s about time I man up and take up to the sport as well!

Historical  and legendary fights are on You tube. Most interesting views are ones that have bouts matching up Muay Thai fighters with either Kungfu or Taekwondo (TKD) blackbelts ….I leave that to you to figure out who comes tops..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VL5Cy33RWLo&feature=related

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Discovering Wat Pho – Thai Kingdom Come Part 4

Structures at Wat Pho

A significant site yet to be  covered was more inclined towards religion. Thailand is largely Buddhist and for a religion that originiated from India,I was rather curious to find out the history of Buddhism in the country.

So what comes to mind when you hear about Buddhism.. monks and perhaps Buddha images? I have encountered a number of monks in my stay in Bangkok,am yet to figure out what qualifies one to become a monk though;conspicuous in their orange color attires,often bare feet holding to either some literature or simple luggage bag. This definitely conjures the image of India’s freedom hero Mahatma Gandhi.

With such hindsight,I sprung bright and early to make my way to Wat(Temple)Pho described to be in the Phra Nakhon District. A friend of mine had recommended that I use a boat ride to the area,rather than hail a cab that would prove relatively expensive and time-wasting (traffic).

A sky train ride(BTS) connecting to the Saphan Taksin station conveniently leads you to the Central Pier to pick up a boat ride to the area. Though I had been advised that the ride would cost me only 50 baht,seems that tourists are cleverly coerced to taking a whole day ticket for 15o baht,that will include 6 other stations,the most popular after the Wat Pho being China town.

A 20 minute boat ride,and several photo shots after,we land at the Pier 8. The Wat Pho is just a 10 minute walk from the Pier,with caution thrown to all to be wary of pick pockets and unscrupulous locals who would wish to take advantage of tourists.

What you notice before entering the Wat Pho grounds are the long white walls one either side of the road. The temple is actually located ‘behind’ the Grand Palace,that dates back to the 1800s but now utilised as a tourist attraction. Entry fee as per my travel, stood at 100 Baht, with free bottle of water being offered.

It is a pity that you need to pay for a guide for such a landmark. No much information signs or story boards exist at the temple. I had however checked a few facts and figures,alluding to the temple being amongst the first Buddhist temples in Thailand. In fact,it is mentioned that the ‘first university where Thai Massage was born’ is the Wat Pho. The temple dates back to 1788,with renovations and upgrades having taken place over the years.

I could not  keep count of the Buddha images I came across..I later checked it up – approximately 1,000 images exist in the 80,000 square metre Wat Pho!!

The Reclining Buddha

The image of reclining Buddha

At over 40 metres length and 15 metres high, the image of the Reclining Buddha is the epicentre of the Wat Pho. This is truly a sight to behold,not just due to its sheer size but the architecture,the workmanship for a structure dating back pre – 20th. Century.

First things first,prepare yourself for long queues at this particular temple housing the Reclining Buddha (There are a number of temples within the larger Wat Pho). One is required to remove his/her shoes and is to be handed a light shoe bag. Leaving shoes and coming to pick them up later, would indeed create so much commotion considering the crowds that line up,thus the idea for one to carry his/her pair appears as an insightful one.

You will need a number of camera angles to try to capture a full length of this Buddha. From the head to the rear that includes the feet,one needs to invest in a good camera,a challenge I need to work on. Be cautioned that one is not allowed to touch the gold-plated image. Decency in dressing is reiterated by the temple staff,with short skirts / shots,tight jeans discouraged.

Again,you will need  your hired guide to fill you in on the symbolism of the reclining Buddha. I managed to listen-in on one,addressing the stage of Nirvana, a state of being free from pain and unity with a supreme being. This off course has stirred my curiosity to learn more about Buddhism,the principles and ideals,considering my ignorance on this subject. Check out http://www.buddha101.com/

The tour of this temple(Reclining Buddha) would take you possibly a maximum 15 minutes..well dependant whether you are visiting alone, or with friends,where by a number of  photo ‘take 1,take 2 sessions’ will suffice.  You will be interested in also contributing towards the upkeep of the temple,with an invitation of contributing 20 baht whilst participating in distributing small coins into 108 bronze bowls,that reflect various Buddhist mantras meant to present good fortune. Willingly,I took part!!

Fortune Teller?

Still struck with awe of the Reclining Buddha,I managed to visit another temple,which however not being as grandiose, also presented  a memorable experience.

Buddha Image at Wat Pho

I think i was getting bewildered by the number of images I was seeing around. How I would have wished for an informed description of what was seeing. I could notice the humility and respect accorded by a number of faithful and at times,had to keep away my camera,getting a grip that this actually is a worship centre and not just a tourist attraction.

Interestingly enough in this temple, I was invited to pick out a small can that contained a number of sticks,shake them and allow one of the sticks to drop. This one stick that denoted a number, subsequently  was matched to a small chit of paper from a drawer of the same number with some writing on it:

My future?

I sure will hold on to the small piece of paper..

So there goes my day at Wat Pho. I gave a pass to the massage parlours within the temple,I noticed 2 parlours with prices ranging between 250 – 700 baht. I will try out some more fancy looking versions I noticed in town.

The Grand Palace is just a throw away from the Wat Pho,so possibly worth considering combining the two while visiting this part of the city. The palace,remember to have decent clothing on,or else you will be turned away. Clothing (pants) mainly are available for ‘hire’ at the main gate though.

The recently re-elected president of the U.S.A, President Barack Obama, is actually slated to visit the Reclining Buddha as part of his itinerary while on his visit of Thailand and Myanmar.

Maybe this would render some weight to your visiting as well..?

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Interesting St. Kitts

Still smarting at this..

sethsnap

Todd and I have visited St. Kitts a couple of times on our adventures.  The first time, we took an army truck excursion to the southern part of the island.  The second visit, we wandered around Basseterre taking in the local feel of the capital city.

St. Kitts is a beautiful island with a rain forest filled with monkeys and beautiful natural beaches that curve along side dormant volcanic mountains. It is Caribbean charm with a touch of local spice.  It is a warm breeze that envelops you as you ponder the magnanimity of the sea before you.

To purchase individual prints or to get a better view, click on the photo.  To purchase a 2013 calendar with my photos, visit the Seth Snap store.  To see more of my photos, visit my galleries.

*Update: Removed first three photos as they were taken on the same trip but…

View original post 9 more words

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The Nightlife Experience – Thai Kingdom Come Part 3

Many of my friends,while I was just about to travel to Thailand had dared me to sample the legendary Bangkok nightlife that we had so often heard about. With famed tales of lady boys and sex changes,I considered this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness something unique of Thailand.

True enough,I occasionally enjoy my drink,thus once I got my bearing around the city,I was sure on my way to the nearest watering hole,as an initiation step to the nightlife, that would also offer an opportunity of my enjoying a football or rugby match..and what do you know,the Summer Olympics as well! Yep, I am an all rounded sports fan, with a soft spot for football(soccer),basketball,tennis and boxing.

So with many on and off track field events of the 2012 Olympics hosted in London happening to fall during the late hours Bangkok time,there was surely no way I was going to miss watching,Usain Bolt,David Rudisha,Gabby Douglas,Micheal Phelps and Mo Farah (re)establish their credentials in possibly the world’s greatest celebrated sporting event.

The sporting events were indeed the perfect way of tracking my way to exploring the nightlife,considering I was so on a solo mission,being miles on end away from friends and family.

Living along the Sukhumvit area,the closest exciting  hotspot that would grant me the opportunity of enjoying the nightlife pleasures was place called Nana. With the convenient,sky train network,it would be easy to get to Nana,for 45 Baht rather than hailing a cab that would cost me three times as much.

Nana

The first thing that hits you about nightlife in Nana is the presence of traders and trading,referred to as night bazaars. From street to soi (description of alley in Thai),there is a near,never-ending presence of merchandise and wares,that range from,T-shirts,to Porsche emblazoned polo shirts,from miniature speakers to watches,travel bags and sex toys.

The go-go bars have their equal share as well..on one side,dimly lit,loud playing entertainment spots,while on the other, there is the open,wide entrance,well-lit bars,with well positioned cable  T.V. screens.

To attract the many tourists,mostly Westerners,commonly referred to as farang,are scantily dressed twilight girls,bearing heavy make up,smiling and inviting the curious onlooker to the numerous nightclubs.

On one occasion I had a chance to chat one of the girls,who summoned the courage to come sit next to me.This is after my strutting in one of the pubs,with a Denzel Washington  aura,ordering a cold Singha and a pack of Marlboro (rarely smoke). In addition I drew out my Samsung Tablet (free wi-fi available majority of the pubs),portraying an impression of an exotic,serious,go getter and possibly rich business man.

In summary the conversation ranged from how long I was staying in Thailand,where I come from,what am doing in Thailand….and do I have a Thai girlfriend! My failure to buy her a drink but to offer a few cigarette sticks instead,obviously did not make me good/profitable company.

I digress. My take of Nana in the end >>> great for the free-spirited,no holds, kind of fun-loving guy. Drink,street-side food,lots a women and rooms all around. How great can commerce get!!

Patpong

To me Patpong appears to be the full stretch of Nana. Located close to the Sala Daeng BTS station on the Silom line, Patpong is basically two streets that present a similar structure to Nana,night shopping bazaar and go-go bars.

Unlike Nana,Patpong presents a rather straight to your face, approach to commercial sex. Tuk Tuk drivers and smiling but aggressive looking,well stationed Thai brokers are quick to show you photos of semi nude or even nude ladies,with the suggestion of ‘do you want a massage..’ or ‘can i show you a good place to have fun..‘. Top this up with pub names that just speak volumes of how your night is expected to end.

I think the best way of describing Patpong and Nana,would be through a visual tour of the areas. Check out this video that I came across that aptly represents my sightings http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TENj5JCuLtA

Sad that I did not come along with my friends and family to experience this incredible part of Bangkok. Advise… tag along with your friends and family if you can,lots of fun while in a group….family I hear you say? Yeah…I picked up a line that the night bazaars are ‘great places to bring mummy and the kids for shopping,while daddy can have some extra fun too!’

So while in Bangkok,ensure to sample Nana and Patpong…..responsibly!!!!

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7- ELEVEN CONVENIENCE STORES – BANGKOK

For a while now..ok over 3 months to be precise, I have been trying to figure out and appreciate the 7-Eleven outlets..small,stand alone shopping units that seem to be very well located as far as retail positioning is concerned… in other words,they happen to be ‘everywhere!’

7-Eleven stores are regarded as convenience stores,with origins tracing back to 1927 in Dallas, Texas. I first came across these stores during a visit to Singapore 2 years ago,but it is during my stay in Bangkok,that i have come to appreciate their reliability and convenience to many city folk.

Going back to the origins,the 7-Eleven name came about from the stores’ unique operating hours i.e 7 am to 11 pm, a unique feat at the time. Over the years,including change of ownership and expansion to overseas markets, 7-Eleven stores now operate, round the clock, 24 hours in 16 countries as at 2011. According to Wikipedia,there exists 46,000 outlets,worldwide run on a franchise basis,an all time high number, even surpassing McDonald’s.

Well getting back to the stores in Thailand, it is thought (no reliable figures I could get) that around 6,000 stores exist in the country with close to around 2,000 in the capital city alone!

7-Eleven store Punnawitti – Sukhumvit

So what would make these, 40 – 100 square metre outlets so popular to form a significant part of Bangkok’s retail landscape,in an era now being dominated by mega shopping malls and supermarkets. Find below 7 factors that I picked out:

1. Location – Every street corner and bang, ‘we are here too’. In addition,presence in ground floor of major buildings like the Nation Tower ( 26 floor offices); you can never miss 10-12 customers,in the 40 sq. metre outlet at any given time.

2. Product range – The pack of cigarette that you forgot,a bottle of water you just want to grab on your way to the car,a cartoon DVD that you just remembered you were to pick for your kid before you catch that bus.The sum of the small,little items just makes the 7-Elevens just the ideal deal. Add to that the availability of a variety of sandwiches,Thai hot dogs,tap- in soda,iced coffee and this becomes your one-stop mini supermarket.

3. Service – Ever smiling,welcoming staff. Upon entering the stores,there is always someone at the counter while handling the till,who will shout out a ‘Hello and welcome’…..all in Thai though..

4. Self choice/ service option – From an African background,only supermarkets provide the self choice way of shopping. Similar size stores,often referred to as kiosks/dukas only afford the shopper the opportunity to convey their requirements(shopping order), over a counter. The closest to 7-Eleven concept would be partnering franchises located at petrol/gas stations.

5. Round the clock open – 24 hour operations plays well to Bangkok’s Night shopping culture witnessed in such areas as Patpong and Nana. Re-sellers,tourists who choose to participate in the night markets,have the opportunity of picking a snack and even a beer, at a 7-Eleven outlet that is sure to be open down the street at 2 am.

6. Security – Presence of in-store security cameras are deterrents to potential shop lifters, discounting the need to hire unmotivated looking and often frowned upon,security personnel

7. Utility Bills – I am informed that 7-Eleven stores offer the opportunity to settle utility bills such as Electricity,gas,cable T.V. Taking convenience the extra mile I think!

‘Oh Thank Heaven’ .. a befitting way of describing a 7-Eleven

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Budding Shopping Culture – Thai Kingdom Come Part 2

Not many can dispute Bangkok’s recent meteoric rise as a top shopping destination in South East Asia. This assertion can be qualified by the numerous emerging shopping centres that dot the Bangkok skyline today.

Popular shopping complexes that I have managed to visit, include the ever packed MBK Centre,CentralWorld,Siam Paragon,Future Park,Fashion Island and Mega Bangna. The MBK Centre in particular has curved out a niche as being the ideal centre for many tourists seeking bargains in clothing and electronics.

MBK Centre as seen from TOKYU Dept Store section

Despite the presence of globally recognized brands at MBK Centre,such as McDonald’s,Starbucks,many have argued the infiltration of cheap copy items of such brands as Jimmy Choo,Prada,Louis Vuitton to mention a few.

To the ever budget conscious traveller and local resident, two ‘open air markets’ are particularly popular (The ‘open air’ setup, is more of individual single unit stalls,not congregated in one particular building). There is the Pratunam Market located a 10 minutes drive from the CentralWorld and the Jajtujak/Chatuchak market located close to the last BTS station along the Sukhumvit Line,referred to as Mo-Chit.

The latter market is open only on weekends from 9.00 am till late afternoon(not sure on particular hour).This is in particular a good choice for items one would wish to pick in bulk and at negotiable price. One is advised to make it the market early,due to the crowds that are sure to swell up later in the day.

I have been informed of several night markets,in reference to similar ‘open air markets’ that open for business in the evening, till late hours of the night. I managed to visit one in an area called Sala Daeng, found it quite intriguing really,with stalls opening and setting up for business at around 6.00 p.m. I managed to pick only a few items in a rush,my mind seemed to find it hard to reconcile,that one can shop late at night,despite assurance of security in the vicinity.

The mainstream shopping centres are quite impressive. What with adequate security,working elevators and escalators,presence and clearly marked fire exit door ways,clean washrooms…yes I can never fail to overemphasize the need to have clean toilets,with smiling and quick-to-action staff.

The tenant mix and positioning is quite outstanding – from coffee shops,department stores,shoe shops,supermarket,one can not fail to notice the thought process in achieving a successful shopping centre.

Food courts are also a significant addition to any successful mall in Bangkok;be sure to acquaint yourself with process of picking a food voucher,card or paper voucher, prior to heading to a particular food vendor.

An interesting addition worth mentioning is the number of slim and make up centres in a majority of the centres. Weight and physical matters seem to be taken very seriously in Bangkok. This is obviously an opportunity that has been seized by a number of players in the industry.

Finally,another significant factor I believe that is contributing to a successful shopping culture, is infrastructure and in particular the mass transit systems ,the rapid elevated train service commonly known as the sky train or BTS*(Bangkok Transit System) as well as the Underground MRT system

Sky Train – Sukhumvit Line

The hordes of people who disembark from the trains are testament of success stories in conveniently and rapidly connecting a ready market to willing service providers.

So,when in Bangkok, be sure to visit the places mentioned above and share your experiences. If I have missed out on something,for you frequent Bangkok traveller,feel free to chip in…

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