This week’s trip was to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center (QSNCC), two stops away on the subway from the Lumpini MRT station. The convention center is located in Khlong Toei on Ratchadapisek Road just off Rama IV on the way Sukhumvit Road.

Lumpini MRT Station

Waiting for the subway train at Lumpini

In 1989, the Thai Government agreed to host the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in October 1991. The government decided to build the Queen Sirikit Center in order to provide a venue that met international standards for this meeting of over 10,000 bankers and finance heads from over 150 countries.

A leading Thai architectural firm was chosen to coordinate the design and construction of this project. With less than two years to build a world-class convention center, they could not use conventional techniques since there was simply not enough time. Instead, they utilized a “build and design” approach where the design and building occurred simultaneously. This approach is analogous to rapid application development for software development where planning and coding are interwoven. This allows software to be written much faster than with a more conventional approach and also makes it easier to change requirements as the software is developed. It is easier for me to see how this works for software than for a major building project.

For the Queen Sirikit Center, 100 designers and over 1,000 construction workers toiled around the clock to get the building erected. For eight weeks, over 300 trucks per day carried landfill to the site. Once the fill was in and the pilings were set, the building was finished in just eleven months. Overall, the project took only 16 months and cost US$90 million; it was finished two months early and US$10 million under budget. Frankly, I have a hard time even imagining anything like this ever occurring in the U.S. nowadays with political inertia, the bureaucratic EPA reviews, and subsequent court challenges leading to endless delays, e.g., the Keystone Pipeline. Furthermore, Davis-Bacon requirements to use overpriced (and, of course, underproductive) union labor on a government project would inevitably lead to massive cost overruns. To me, there is no wonder why growth is so much faster and more robust in the emerging economies than in the sclerotic U.S., Europe, and Japan.

Lokuttara in front of the entrance to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center

The QSNCC is a beautiful facility both inside and out. The three-tiered glass canopy at the entrance was inspired by the design of northern Thai temples. In front of the main entrance is a sculpture titled “Lokuttara” or the golden flame (see picture above) created by Professor Chalood Nimsamer, who was recognized in 1988 as a Thai National Artist.

Traditional Thai architecture dominates the QSNCC with more than 1,500 art pieces on display. In the main reception is a sculpture created for the QSNCC by Thanee Klinkhajorn of a column topped by a four-headed white Elephant holding up the world. Among the most prominent pieces is a huge wooden relief sculpture carved by Jaroon Mathanom that shows the Coronation of Indra. This piece, called the “Indrabhisek,” spans over 1,500 square feet and it is guarded by a giant Yaksa.

Yaksa guarding Indrabhisek

White Elephants Holding Up the World

Thai schoolchildren sitting beneath the Indrabhisek

The QSNCC houses portraits of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit that were painted by Sanit Ditthapan, who was also honored as a Thai National Artist in 1989. Colorful Lanna banners, known as “tung,” hang from the ceiling of a large Atrium above a traditional pulpit fashioned from teak. In an alcove along one of the staircases is a statute of Trimurti — the Hindu Trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.

Sanit’s Portraits of the King and Queen

Lanna Thai Banners

Traditional Teak Pulpit

Sculpture of Trimurti

Dr. Thiam Chokwatana, founder of Saha Group

The QSNCC has a full calendar and at the end of June it was the venue for the Saha Group’s 16th annual Trade Fair. The Saha Group was formed in 1942 by Dr. Thiam Chokwatana to sell consumer goods that it produces. Today, the Saha Group distributes over 30,000 goods internationally that it manufactures in its industrial parks in Chonburi, Prachinburi, and Lamphun. In addition to making products to sell under its own brands — BSC, St. Andrews, MAMA, PAN, and Rain Flower, the Saha Group also produces and distributes products for well-known, international brands including Lacoste, Arrow, Elle, Guy Laroche, Wacoal, Itokin, Mizuno, and Naturalizer.

The Saha Group’s theme this year was “Heal The World: Good People • Good Products • Good Society = Thailand’s Best.” While it did seem to have a little bit too much of the Kumbaya spirit for my jaded and cynical soul, there is a lot of the Kumbaya spirit here in Thailand. Anyway, I went to the show with the expectation of seeing new products that Thailand could export to the world.

Bargains for the Monastically-inclined

While there were booths with information on how to combat floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and even volcanoes (not a big threat here in Thailand, but best to be prepared, I guess), the major focus of this event seemed to be just one more large market that offered multitudes of discounted goods to local consumers. There were thousands of Thais buying shoes, apparel, toys, baked goods, and assorted household products at up to 80% off suggested prices. (I wonder who is suggesting these prices and I would love to meet the suckers who buy at these suggested prices.) While the event was somewhat disappointing, I did find a booth that was selling monks’ garb at a discount, so if anyone is looking to join a Buddhist monastery, I can probably point you in the right direction.

Overall, this event simply reinforced my belief that there are three major activities for Thais — shopping, eating, and sleeping, with eating probably being number one and shopping a very, very, very close second.

A room full of bargain hunters

Kop Khun Krab.

© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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