On the Sunday before New Year’s Eve, the alarm went off early so that I could travel to Min Buri in eastern Bangkok. The Kwan-Riam Market (point B on map below) along the Saen Saeb canal is Bangkok’s latest market, but it is open only on the weekends from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. An early arrival is necessary to watch the Buddhist monks from Wat Bamphen Nua and Wat Bampheng Tai, two temples that flank the market on opposite sides of the canal, collect alms from the people who wait on both banks of the canal. Since the market is about 20 miles from my apartment (A), there was no sleeping in last Sunday.
My taxi arrived in Min Buri at about 7:15, and when I got to the canal I found many people already seated at the edge waiting for the ceremonies to begin. At 7:30, one of the monks began chanting while the other monks slowly assembled. After about 10 minutes, the monks proceeded to the boats from which they accepted the offerings from those on the shore.
After watching the alms giving, I wandered through the new market. At about 8 a.m., most retailers were just opening up their shops, while most of the food vendors were open and serving breakfast. I found what looked like one of the busier places (my simplistic approach to figure out the better restaurants), and I went in for a bowl of noodles, sprouts, and fish in broth. A tasty bargain at just 60 baht ($2) including a bottle of water. After breakfast (or maybe as a continuation of it), I found two of my favorites — Chiang Mai sausage — a spicy, grilled pork sausage with red curry, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, and lemongrass — and Sago pearls with Cantaloupe in Coconut milk — a delicious and healthy dessert.
As I walked along both sides of the canal after breakfast, I noticed several pens where people were raising ducks, swans, and fish. There were several varieties of ducks and both black and white swans. I expect that these ducks might end up in one of the nearby restaurants once they grow up, but I have no idea what, if anything, will become of the swans.
Inside the market were the standard clothing, food, and knick-knack vendors. Of more interest, however, were the sand sculptors who had already finished two life-size sculptures and were putting the final details on a third with one more block of untouched sand awaiting their artistry.
I joined one of the boat rides that take visitors up the canal and back for just 10 baht. Nine to twelve year-old volunteer guides from Wat Bamphen Nua School come along on each ride to explain about the history of Saen Saeb Canal and the sites that the boat is passing. Unfortunately, their entire talk was in Thai, so I had no idea what they were saying. Nevertheless, they seemed to be well-spoken, very polite, and quite earnest, and the Thais on the boat paid attention to them.
The Saen Saeb canal runs eastward (toward Cambodia) from Bangkok to the Bang Pa Kong River in Chachoengsao. Construction on the canal began in 1837 and it was completed in 1840. The canal was an important supply route for the Siamese military in their war, fought under the leadership of General Chao Phraya Bodin, with the Vietnamese over Cambodia from 1841 to 1845.
Near the edge of the canal is a statue of a water buffalo upon which a young couple are seated and many Thais were having their pictures taken with this as a background. A woman explained to me that the statue represents Kwan and Riam (the namesakes of the market), the lead characters in an old Thai movie called Plae Kao (or The Scar.) The movie was made in 1977, it won international acclaim in 1981 at Festival des 3 Continents in Nantes, and in 1998 it was named to a list compiled by the British Film Institute of the world’s 360 classic movies. The movie was remade in 2002 as Kwan-Riam.
Kwan-Riam is the Thai version of Romeo and Juliet (or Tristan and Isolde, or Pyramus and Thisbe, or West Side Story, or Anna and the King (half Thai), or Antony and Cleopatra, or…). These star-crossed lovers are the children of rival village chiefs in a rural farm village. Kwan (the boy) courts Riam (the girl) and when she ultimately succumbs to his charms, the two pledge their love at a shrine on an island in the river. Riam’s father disapproves, and he and Riam’s brother confront Kwan. In a sword fight that ensues, Kwan’s face is cut resulting in a scar.
Meanwhile, Riam’s father sends her to Bangkok to be a servant to a wealthy woman. However, the woman is struck by how much Riam looks like her deceased daughter, so she basically adopts her. The woman introduces Riam to Somchai, the scion of a wealthy nobleman. When Riam hears that her mother is dying, she and Somchai head back to the village. Kwan sets fire to Somchai’s boat so that Riam cannot leave, and Riam’s family and Somchai go looking for Kwan. Although Somchai finds him and shoots him in the chest, Kwan still has enough strength to swim to the spirit island. Riam jumps into the river after him, catches up to him, takes his knife, and then stabs herself so that they can die together.
I spent New Year’s Eve with some expats who have lived in Bangkok for years. They clearly know where to find fabulous French food — we dined on imported oysters, smoked duck breast, foie gras, smoked salmon, the best baguette that I have had in Thailand, several varieties of cheese, and French Champagne. At midnight, the Bangkok skyline was ablaze with fireworks from at least half a dozen locations.
Fiscal Cliff Fiasco
Finally, let us all praise the Preener-in-Chief for his remarkable job of finally imposing increased tax rates on those dastardly, unpatriotic “millionaires and billionaires” (as well as on those $250,000-aires via the phase-out of deductions and exemptions). Let us not forget that payroll taxes will also increase for everyone — so much for protecting the middle-class. But, as W once exclaimed, “Mission Accomplished!” The upcoming reduction in the Federal budget deficit is staggering, as can be seen in the chart below. BO is indeed a legend in his own mind, almost Lincolnesque.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.