Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Avatar" same but different

Despite the hype, "Avatar" follows a very familiar movie formula: A member of an invading force learns the defenders' ways, culture and [ahem!] mating rituals; decides to "go native" and instigates an uprising against the invaders -- his own people. We've seen the same story in "Dances with Wolves" and "The Last Samurai" with little variation, and it's a little disappointing that plotwise, "Avatar" puts nothing new on the table.

But the plot isn't really the point of this particular movie. What truly amazes is the leap in movie-making technology that raises the level of immersion into the viewing experience. Viewed in 3D, the effects are truly astounding. Instead of seeing an image that looks composited from several 2D layers superimposed on each other, "Avatar" manages to create a 3D effect that actually looks like depth, or at least a finer gradation of depth such that transitions between different layers are not only possible but look natural too.

And with this new level of immersive reality, the thrills of falling from great heights or being pursued by things with sharp teeth are greatly heightened. At one point, the guy beside me gasped and jumped, and I was lucky not to get a faceful of melted cheese from the nachos he was munching on.

The story isn't the biggest thing for me. I think of "Avatar" as a just a preview of the new kinds of movies that Hollywood will soon be grinding out. Anyway, there's little choice in the matter. There's no way, with current technology, that movie pirates will be able to offer the same kind of viewing experience on our home screens. Take that, Jolly Rogers!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Doin' bidness with the Thai

Thai vendors, especially the ones at the night market in CMX have a simple sales philosophy: never chase away potential income. Having learned from our experiences in Bali, June was out to drive the hardest bargains she could. She picked on quality, colour choice, she even offered to purchase multiple items for a "bulk" purchase rate. At a little stall that sold silver trinkets, she mixed and matched pendants with neck and wrist bands, even though they had to be un-made and re-fitted on the spot. At the next stall she came to, she got an even lower price and asked for a instant custom job which was carried out quite happily.

June's biggest triumph was at a fabrics store where she inquired about a batik sarong and for a demonstration as to how to tie it in a halter-neck fashion. No problem, the sales staff obligingly and painstakingly showed her step-by-step until she got it. When June quoted her price, the sales staff unleashed a torrent of foreign-sounding curses, punctuated by the word, "stingy" a couple of times. We simply walked off to find a tuk-tuk to get us back to our hotel. Just as we were about to negotiate the fare, from afar we heard an exasperated, "ok, lah!" We turned around and saw our batik sales staff waving at us to come back. Score!

This isn't, however, about a people desperate and grovelling for a pittance. We all know there is a game we're playing. We're not there to screw each other over, we're simply negotiating a price both buyer and seller can accept. The process in no way diminishes the pride the vendors have in themselves and their wares. There's nothing to be gained by chasing customers away with displays of attitude. If the customer requires a little more work in order to be satisfied, then just be obliging, smile and do that little more for a win-win.

Their service culture is just something more to admire about the Thai.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Driving in Thailand

To get around Thailand, I've ridden in taxis, tour buses, tuk-tuks, and songtaew (public transport converted from pick-up trucks). Regardless, the driving philosophy is consistent. Unlike drivers on S'porean roads who are fixated on their right-of-way and what "should" or "is supposed to be" and drive so grumpily because road conditions seldom suit them, Thai drivers deal with what's in front of them -- they deal with the "is".

If someone is slow in front, change lane. If lane changing is impossible for the moment, brake. If lane changing requires a bust of ridiculous acceleration and an immediate course correction, hit the gas and manoeuvre accordingly. There is no ill-tempered driving nor curses, raised fists or fingers. The horn if sounded is more for information, "careful, I'm here," rather than imperious, petulant demands to "get out of the way".

Yes, there were hair-raising moments on the winding, often narrow and dark stretches of roads in CMX, but we survived to tell the tale, anyway.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend market

It's Sunday and I've recovered sufficiently to attend the must-see Chatuchak weekend market. Despite my initial apprehension, I really love this place! It's a complete carnival celebrating classical capitalism without crass commercialism. Ever wonder how the "fair" came to be named? It was when traders came together and set up an itinerant market, just like this one, and everyone knew what the best and FAIRest prices were because no trader could price his wares much higher or lower than his competitors. Best place to buy and sell what you needed was at the fair, and that's why fairs are so well loved from way back when. The rides and sideshows that now accompany fairs came much later, hence "funfairs".

The market has everything, including a corner for pets and pet supplies. The merchandise is all well-groomed, fluffy and most importantly, cute! This pix (which I surreptitiously snapped -- "no photos, please!") shows a pup, getting his bath in the process of being preened to perfection. NBS better stay away from this place or she'll be sorely tempted to buy the lot, including the bathwater.

So many sweet treats to eat and beat the heat. June opted for this colourful dessert mostly containing the pink stuff in the middle: some jelly-coated water-chestnut, a staple of most Thai sweets.

Coconut ice-cream served in a young coconut shell cup with tender coconut shavings on the side for me. What a concept!

And after a few more hours mall-pounding MBK, we're on our way home. Bumped into this bunch of crazies at Suvarnabhumi International to pose with for one final pic in Thailand.

Sawadee krup!