Follow by Email


Search This Blog

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Paris, at Le Marais


I and a few colleagues used our free day after a business meeting in Paris to go Le Marais district. Coming out from the Hotel de Ville metro station, we were struck by the huge Hotel de Ville directly in front of the metro station.  I was wondering how expensive it would be to stay in such a grand Hotel. But actually, it is not a hotel, it is a Municipal Building. After some googling I found that in French ‘hotel’ could mean home, building, residence, so it does not always mean hotel as the place to rent rooms to stay for tourists.  Nowadays, in addition to its city administrative function, Hotel de Ville is also a place of art and culture. There are many interesting exhibitions inside the building and the at the square in front of the building. 

Hotel de Ville, the largest Municipal Building in Europe, is located on the banks of the Seine river and the edge of Le Marais district. The streets lead us to the fashionable district, full of lovely shops, cafes and art galleries. Today, Le Marais is one of the best districts in Paris, a mix of medieval architecture, trendy shops, cultural sights and lifestyle that is unique. A district of narrow streets on the right bank of the Seine river, where you can enjoy this historic place, the aesthetic buildings and  the French culinary. 

Eight hundred years ago, Le Marais was a swamp. The French word ‘marais’ literally translates to ‘swamp’ in English, thus this place was called Le Marais because of the swampy quality of the land on the banks of the Seine. To provide new agricultural space, the swampy areas were turned into commercial gardening. For a long time, this area fell in and out of style due to changes in the fertility of the land and the difficulty of building on the swampy area. 

In the 16th century, king Henry IV dried Le Marais and the place became the favourite area to build prestigious mansions, where most of the greatest aristocratic French families lived. The golden age of Le Marais continued till the 17th century, making it a center of artistic and cultural life. The nobles built their mansions (in French: ‘hotel particulier’) such as Hotel de Sens, Hotel de Sully, Hotel de Beauvais, Hotel Carnavalet, Hotel de Guénégaud and Hotel de Soubise. The mansions were decorated magnificently, with refined furniture and some luxury items from this golden period. 

Following the up and down of the Bourbon monarchy, the economic depression, the French revolution, the restoration of Paris, Le Marais also went up and down. It was raised in the 16th century, destroyed during revolution and wars, reserved by André Malraux in 1962, then renewed by the municipal council in 1969. 

Strolling through Le Marais today we can appreciate the aesthetics of the area as it became a popular commercial area, and hosting one of Paris’ main Jewish communities. It also became a fashionable district, most of the mansions turned to museum, libraries and schools, surrounded by the best clothes and food shops, and modern art galleries. 



Saturday, October 17, 2020

Bankok, at Night


Add caption

Bangkok is one of those places where at the moment the day slowly progresses to the night you still have enough to see as long as you are not tired. The scenic spots, the palaces and temples, are best visited during the day, but at night, Bangkok takes on a whole different face. Parties, night markets, nightclubs, street food and unique shows come to life luring the visitors to experience the night in the city.

Street shopping by day is exciting despite the heat of the sun in this city, but as the day cools down in the evening, the night markets opened up like blooming night flowers offering so much more than the day markets, clothes, shoes, handicrafts, fake designer goods, accessories, beachwear, souvenirs and of course snack and drink. In the narrow alleyway brightly lighted with portable neon, you can see row upon row of stalls lining the street markets. Colorful goods are displayed on the stalls as attractive as possible, and energic vendors raise their voices to promote their goods. When buying, don’t forget to bargain, generally you can get a merchandise somewhere between 25% and 50% cheaper than the first price offered by the vendor. So don’t hesitate to bargain and bring home some memorable souvenirs from here.

Many of busiest night markets are located alongside the popular red-light district, such as the Silom Night market. It is in the middle of the Patpong district, a famous red light featured in the movie The Deer Hunter and in James Bond Goldfinger movie. Patpong is two parallel side streets, between Silom and Surawongse Roads, occupied with shady strip bars offering adult shows and pole dancing. As the evening turns into night those bars come alive with the start of loud dancing music. You can see through the open doors the girls started gyrating at the poles and dancing, under violet neon lights. The loud voices of the street vendors are replaced with the whispering touts offering everything from “ping pong show” to “massage”.

Undoubtedly the face of this Patpong contributes to the name of Bangkok as the Sin City. Prostitution may take place in many places in Bangkok, massage parlours, restaurants, saunas, karaoke, go-go bars or beer bars. The names to the bars are so bold, such as Pussy Collection, Super Pussy, Pink Pussy… hard to miss. The original “discreet” or “underground” nightlife in Patpong doesn’t seem to exists anymore. The go-go bars at the backdrop of the night market even became a tourist attraction.

So what happened to the face of Bangkok which name means City of Angels, where orange robed monks wander the streets in the early mornings with a bowl in their hands, where mothers since more than 2,500 years ago have been cooking meals to give to the monks, where there are thousands of temples inside the city, and there are altars in every crowded corner of the city to placate the spirits….?

Does Thai Buddhism tolerate such widely spread prostitution by not correcting the attitudes toward women whom are regarded as inferior and even dangerous to men, or does the religion contribute to the view that women are viewed as inherently impure and therefore not eligible for enlightenment, and are thus locked into degraded positions ranging from sex trade laborers to nuns as a means to generate merit for themselves and their family?

Although Buddhism has played a significant role in shaping law, cultural frameworks and social life in the kingdom of Thailand, I think many factors contribute to the wide spread prostitution, let’s say the World War 2, the Vietnam War, the poverty in the country where prostitutes can get 10 times more than the minimum wage, and not to mention the corruptions, the lack of law enforcement, and the Mafia  that is also involved in the political parties.

Despite the wide spread prostitution here, it is actually prohibited under Thai law. But karaoke bars, go-go bars and massage parlours can be registered as normal, legal businesses. Police usually treat the prostitution at such premises as an exchange between the prostitute and the client, an exchange to which the owner of the business was not a party.  So in practice it is tolerated, sometimes because local officials have financial interests in the prostitution. Some corrupt Thai authorities may turn a blind eye on this USD 6 billion industry, involving some 2 million women in Thailand.




Saturday, September 26, 2020

Bangkok, at the Grand Palace

What more to say about the Grand Palace of Bangkok, there are so many things to see and photograph, statues of animal-like humans, sparkling golden tiled walls and roofs, gardens, paintings, soaring spires, golden stupas, the endless row of gold Garudas, and not to mention the highly venerated Emerald Buddha. No wonder that the Grand Palace has been the center of Thai art and culture for centuries and regarded as the model of every branch of Thai art. The palace is considered the reflection of the Thai identity.

When King Rama I ordered the move of the capital to the Phra Nakhon District in 1782, he established the Grand Palace as the new center of the kingdom. He drew inspiration from the palace in Ayutthaya , the former capital of Siam, destroyed by the Burmese in the 1767. The Grand Palace was strategically placed next to the Chao Phraya River to emulate the palace of Ayutthaya. The layout of the Grand Palace, which covers 213,677 square metre space, also emulates the old palace in Ayutthaya with separate courts, walls, gates and forts. These different zones within the palace complex include the Outer Court, the Central Court, the Inner Court and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. In order to find the necessary material for the construction of the Grand Palace, King Rama I instructed his people to go to the destroyed Ayutthaya, to dismantle and remove of bricks and stones which were painstakingly towed downriver to form the new palace.

Part of the Grand Palace complex, Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is the holiest Buddhist temple in Thailand and home to the Emerald Buddha. Chaophraya Chakri, who became King Rama I, brought the Emerald Buddha from Vientiane when he captured the city in 1778. He built the temple and enshrined the Emerald Buddha there as a symbol of Siam's regained nationhood.

The mythical and historical past of the statue created an important belief surrounding the Emerald Buddha. It is believed that it protected a monarch, their city or capital. If a king was dethroned or defeated in battle, the Emerald Buddha was taken as a hostage and kept in the capital of the victor. It is thought to have spiritual power and is an extremely important icon to the Thai people.

But I was surprised to see the legendary Emerald Buddha looked so tiny, 66 centimetres in height, perched high on a nine-metre pedestal that reaches almost to the ceiling of the temple. The Emerald Buddha, carved from a single piece of grey-green jade, is elevated above the heads of visitors as a sign of respect. You also must sit with your feet pointing away from the Emerald Buddha as a sign of respect.

I found the most breathtaking aspect of the Emerald Buddha Temple is its decorated outer walls. The walls are covered with 178 colorful mural panels painted during the reign of Rama I showing scenes from the Ramakien, which is Thailand’s version of the Hindu epic, Ramayana. In the Ramakien, names, dress, customs, weapons and even the topography all relate to the Thai kingdom. Rama being incarnated from the Hindu god Vishnu, in Ramakien he is a reincarnation of the Buddha. His kingdom Ayodhya in the Ramayana epic is changed to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand.



Friday, September 4, 2020

Bangkok, at the Siam Paragon

Along the roads of Bangkok, we can see that this city is a heaven for consumerism. Billboards are everywhere, huge and bright, advertising big companies from Samsung to Toyota.  Even high-rise buildings are also stuck with huge billboards. In a way it looks awesome.

Also at the sky metro train stations, you cannot be bored waiting for the trains as there are many colorful billboard screens with happy pretty artists offering cosmetics, fruit juices, and, of course, all kind of clothes.  It seems that these ’influencers’ are following us everywhere like street vendors offering their goods, and chasing you if you don’t pay attention to them, starting from the time you wait for the sky trains till you reach your destination.  And yes, even inside the trains there are many tv screens showing advertisements. They are the virtual street vendors, but with broad smiles and white teeth, dancing and jumping dynamically that follow you everywhere, in contrast with the real street vendors with rugged clothing, sunburnt face, sadly offering their goods as if begging.

As the sky-train arrived at the Siam station interchange station, let’s forget about the street vendors, as we are arriving to the Siam Paragon shopping mall, the paragon of shopping malls. Occupying one of the busiest transit intersections in the city, the shopping mall takes advantage of its prominent location by serving as a critical link to the surrounding district. According to Arcadis, the architect company of this shopping mall, the design reflects the level of luxury envisioned by the Arcadis team with a dramatic glass atrium that serves as the mall’s grand entrance. Perhaps the designer’s greatest accomplishment - and challenge-is the way it addresses issues of circulation and layout of this shopping mall.

Inside, it is a wonderland of high-end boutiques lining up at the lobby from Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel, followed by Fendi, Bottega Venetta. The shop windows are nicely decorated with the boutique’s latest fashion, clothes, bags, shoes, etc. displayed to suit the season, this time the theme is ‘The year of the Dog’.  Dogs are displayed playing with bags, shoes, wallets inside the windows. We can say that the shop windows are quite a creative work by itself, they are really enticing our consumeristic instinct. We can see some Chinese tourists lining up obediently in front of the Louis Vuitton’s door.

Luxurious is an understatement for this shopping mall, as it not only has high-end boutiques, but also show rooms for very expensive and exclusive cars, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati and Porsche. The cars look so impeccable, but inside the glass cased show-rooms they look like toys in large scale inside glass box. And the shop attendants seemed bored by themselves as nobody came inside the show-rooms.

But that is not all…., there is an Ocean Aquarium in the basement, multiplex cinemas with 15 large screens, Thai Art Gallery, the KidZania for kids to learn and play, the Japanese chain Kinokuniya bookstore, the Paragon department store, a super market and not to mention the high-end restaurants. And it even has an Opera Theatre on the 5th floor!

On the way down the escalators I could hear a background music by REM in ‘Shiny Happy People’:
‘Whoa, here we go…
Everyone around, love them, love them.
Put it in your hands, take it, take it.
There's no time to cry, happy, happy…’