Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Heat island.

The brief winter – now depressingly at an end – only serves to remind
us how appallingly hot it is once the few days of coolness are
overcome by the relentless furnace-like heat blowing up from the
depths of Hades (or Narok, as they call it in these parts). Even if I
loved everything else about Bangkok, the heat is still the factor
that will end up persuading me to get the hell out sooner or later.
It was bad enough for me today, lying immobile under the fan reading
Michael Palin and only just managing to maintain my core temperature
at a safe level through total lack of activity. George the dog, with
his lack of sweat glands, looked as if he was really suffering. And
this is December – the coldest month. I dread to think what it will
be like in April, after four solid months of the sun beating down on
the hundred square miles of concrete that makes up central Bangkok.

Global warming is at its most vengeful here: as John Burdett says in
one of his Bangkok books, when you are already at the upper limits of
human tolerance, a couple of degrees extra pushes you into dangerous
territory. I'd much rather be enjoying global warming in London where
it's 8 degrees instead of 6.

Exercise, at a stretch.

Have had to find a form of exercise other than running. Every time I
run, no matter how long I leave between runs, my knees feel terrible
and my back aches like a pensioner. A combination of swimming at The
British Club and yoga seem to be doing the trick. Leaves you feeling
nice and loose, expanded by stretching and pulling rather than
compacted by endless pounding of the pavements. A worthwhile regimen.

Bah, Bawa.

Bought an interesting book over the weekend: Beyond Bawa. A fairly
comprehensive catalogue of architecture throughout Asia that has in
some way been influenced by Geoffrey Bawa. Interesting to read that
he didn't even become an architect until he was 38, having been a
failed lawyer up until then.

Some of the earlier stuff was interesting. But it seemed that he (and
his protégés) were pretty useless at designing homes for the common
man. Their work for large houses was always superb, airy, gorgeous:
but houses and villages for tsunami survivors and social housing for
Sri Lankan government projects were boxy and cheap, with almost no
windows, and looked as if they came from the drawing board of someone
totally different. Why couldn't they have taken their learnings from
their prestige jobs and applied them to their more down-to-earth
projects? All they would have had to do was do things on a smaller
scale. Or was it something to do with the fact that Bawa and his ilk
were determinedly upper class, living in plantation houses and
gadding about in Rolls Royces, and they thought the lower classes
wouldn't be able to appreciate (or simply didn't deserve) their best
work? Some of the world's most exciting architecture is designed as
social housing. So I can't help but think of Bawa and his school as
failures when it came to really making a difference to Sri Lanka's

If I had survived the tsunami only to be billeted into one of their
airless, stuffy boxes, I can imagine wanting to slit my wrists and
join my dead compatriots in the next world – where, hopefully, better
architecture was available for the plebs.

Noticed that WOHA – started by Richard Hassell (Jon Hanson's
housemate in Singapore all those years ago) and his partner – had
some major entries in the book. But their work looks terribly
unimaginative. The same old white walls, glass, airy staircases.
Nice, and perfectly acceptable to live in I'm sure, but zero
character or originality. Feels uptight and claustrophobic, and
depressingly derivative. Give me something from 30 or 40 years
earlier any day of the week, when that kind of modernism hadn't yet
set into something overly polished, scrubbed, and still had some room
for individual architects' expressions. Perhaps it's something to do
with Singapore land values, and the fact that everything is just so
damned expensive. The developers want to be interesting, but not so
interesting that they can't squeeze 12 houses onto what was supposed
to be a single block.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Beaching and Moaning

Despite Thailand being known as a tropical paradise, Bangkok residents
have it tough when wanting a beach break.

The nearest decent beach is not less than two hours away. Yes, there
are closer stretches of sand, but none with water you'd want to dip
your toe into.

But for us Mahanakon dwellers, getting to the beautiful beaches of
Samet just got a whole lot easier.

This is one of those things you think twice about publicizing. It's
something that might be ruined if too many people know about it.

It's a road.

Not even a new road. But a road that is sufficiently underused to
allow you to get to Ban Phe, the jumping off point for Samet,
comfortably in under two hours.

From Bangkok, get on the motorway, then get off at the road to
Klaeng. Follow the road all the way to Klaeng, turn right, drive
another 25 kilometres and suddenly, shockingly, you're in Ban Phe
while everyone else who left Bangkok at the same time as you is still
battling roadworks and crazed truck drivers somewhere outside Laem
Chabang Freight Terminal.

The road looks like a much longer route on the map. But looks can be
deceiving. It's a good hour faster than the next best option, and half
the time of the Rayong route on a bad day.

I didn't go to Samet for years because whatever relaxed state of mind
that could be achieved on the island was guaranteed to be erased on
the tortuous drive back.

Now with this new discovery, I think I'll be there at least once a

Long live the Thai Highways Department.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


I used to be a Husky kind of person.

Beautiful shiny coat, dramatic tribal markings, slightly sinister
appearance: it was hard to think of another kind of dog more
interesting than a Siberian.

That was before my girlfriend introduced her dog George into my life.
A quirky example of a quirky breed: the bulldog.

I read that this breed, despite having a reputation of being
absolutely fearless, is actually known to have many irrational fears.
George certainly lives up to that description. Ceiling fans,
umbrellas, bicycles, shopping bags, aerosol cans, moisturisers,
mineral water bottles, hosepipes, guitars, motorbike helmets: all of
them go onto his 'must avoid' list.

In his jumpier moods, the falling of a leaf in the garden can set him
off, propelling himself vertically into the air from all fours like a
cartoon character.

I think he's so appealing because he barely looks like a dog at all.
He doesn't have a tail. And his face bears more of a resemblance to
many human beings I know than any other breed of canine. When he
stands up on his hind legs, he just looks like a miniature human
being with strangely flat buttocks.

And his cute spongy body, when he sits on his haunches, looks more
like a koala bear than a dog.

He's so expressive, his wrinkly face allowing him a range of
expressions unknown to other breeds.

I can't imagine ever loving another kind of four-legged friend again.
What a character.