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On watching ‘The Hangover Part II’ in Bangkok, and being a cynical asshole

By on Jun 14, 2011 in Personal, Reviews, Travel | 20 comments

The first part of this blog post – a review of Hangover 2 – isn’t what I what I sat down to write; it just gives me a way to segue into the later bits. I find it funny that the owner of Segway Inc. died when he drove a Segway off a cliff. Segway segue segway segue… *** Every Vegas movie has a shot of a guy sticking his head out like a puppy from a car, awestruck by the dozens of neon signs and a thousand bulbs flashing by. Govinda cavorts around in the Swiss Alps, suspiciously singing and dancing with a bunch of schoolkids. As long as you give moviegoers an armchair vacation, it adds pizzaz to an otherwise lacklustre script. This is what I found myself thinking after watching The Hangover Part II, in Bangkok, the week it released in theatres. I count myself lucky that I got to see the filming locations. Hell-yeah I was excited. A quest to complete the trail and discover Bangkok at the same time! Armed with these guides from Travelhappy and CNNGo, I started off at the Sky Bar and Sirocco restaurant on the 63rd/64th floor of Lebua Hotel. Didn’t go to the top – for one, the cargos I was wearing wouldn’t pass their ‘smart casual only’ dress code. Also, prices – aptly for a place named Sky Bar – are sky-high: a drink costs about 500 baht (US $17)! It is supposed to have one of the best views of Bangkok (Bangkok doesn’t, yet, have a space needle like structure they can use to gouge tourists), so if you’re nattily dressed and have cash to spare, this one place to check out even if you aren’t a Hangover 2 fan. Many generic-Bangkok street scenes were filmed in Bangkok’s Chinatown, known as Yaorawat. Much of the lanes look the same as the next one; still, if you want to see the specific lanes where they filmed then these are Soi Phiphasya 1 and Soi Plaeng Nam. Chinatowns are a fascinating place in any city, Bangkok is no different. You can lose yourself in its sprawling Yaorawat district for a whole day and never get bored with watching life pass by. The Chao Phraya river is very much the lifeline of Bangkok. It flows north-to-south through the city, a major traffic-way that can often get you to your destination faster than Bangkok’s notoriously congested roads. As you take a Chao Phraya Express ferry down the river, you’re sure to find ‘longboats’ – small, private boats for hire with a long shaft connecting the engine to the propeller (hence the name). The Wolfpack travelled in one of these, in the scene where Stu strums a guitar lamenting their night epicly gone wrong. The speedboat scene in the final act is on the same river, though I never saw one myself. Perhaps this is only a possibility if you know international gangstas. Also on the Chao Phraya river, close to the Memorial Bridge pier, is the riverside café where Alan starts playing on an arcade machine – that’s Nang Noun Restaurant. Given the prominent role the riverway plays in Bangkok residents’ daily routine, it is no surprise that so many scenes were filmed there. A short walk from Sukhumvit MRT – a district full of high-rise fancy hotels and tourist-packed shopping centres – is Bangkok’s infamous Soi Cowboy, a lane full of go-go bars. (‘Soi’, in case you were wondering, means ‘lane’ in Thai.) I came here to see the place where Stu finds out he has demon/semen inside him. ‘Siam Siam’ doesn’t actually exist; it was a modified entrance to Cactus Bar. The interior shots were filmed at the Tilac, across the lane. When I visited Soi Cowboy early evening, the *ahem* trade hadn’t quite started, but I could already see expectant wolfpacks and Dirty Old White Men circling like vultures. The girls themselves took this time to gather and have a big family-style dinner together before their work started. I didn’t visit Ancient City, a theme park that was christened ‘Ching Mei Monastery’ in the film. (Don’t confuse ‘Ching Mei’ with ‘Chiang Mai’, which is a city about 700km from Bangkok! Any tuk-tuk driver offering to drive you to Chiang Mai is conning you.) I don’t remember whether I went to Soi Sukhumvit 7/1, where the riot scene outside ‘White Lion’ was filmed, as all streets in the general area of infamous Patpong look very similar (see picture above). Apparently, Bill Clinton visited the set here when filming was going on; this is an opportune moment to make a  ‘what was Bill Clinton doing in Patpong’ joke. You can see pictures from during Hangover 2‘s filming at this forum. And yet, somehow, seeing these places with my own eyes diminishes the exoticness, the unattainability that Bangkok was chosen as a setting for in the first place. For someone who hasn’t visited Bangkok, the narrative remains reasonably fresh because your eyes can feast on ‘something new’ (no, girls, I don’t mean Bradley Cooper). I attribute The Hangover 2‘s box office success to this. Roger Ebert seems to think the film is a deliberate attempt to hurt Bangkok’s tourist traffic by playing up the shady parts of the city but you’d be surprised how many in the audience will see it as an advertisement rather than a warning; a place to...

Analog souvenirs in a digital world

By on May 30, 2011 in Food For Thought | 11 comments

I never really understood the style-statement girls like her try to make. What, really, is the point of wearing thick-rimmed D&G glasses without lenses, in daily usage? I have seen people doing it for high school themed club parties, which sort-of makes sense. And yet as she walked in behind me – both of us boarding the A320 mere minutes before flight departure – she looked spectacularly gorgeous in them. Although, at the time, I was busy feeling embarrassed about the angry glares I was getting from the other passengers at our tardiness. The front section of the flight from Hong Kong to Singapore was packed. Seated in the last couple of rows though, both she and I had a whole row to ourselves. I was glad for the extra legroom, even though ours was a short four-hour journey. Flying out of Hong Kong International Airport at night presents a breathtaking sight: as you take off, you can see Hong Kong’s harbours beneath you, with all ships and maritime vessels glowing bright from their on-deck lights. Like tiny little toys in a bathtub, they stretch out for miles; Hong Kong still remains one of the world’s busiest ports. Bees dancing a slow, complicated dance as they receded further below. The seat belt sign was switched off…and I got down to my usual routine of transferring photos from my digital camera and processing them. (I colour-correct all pictures that I *cough* eventually *cough* upload, so I might as well get started.) Maybe I’d get time between this and a short nap to start my journal entry about this trip. It was about then that I noticed her in the row beside me, fiddling with a handful of photographs. They were Polaroid photos; vintage Polaroid when back in the day it actual meant instant film, rather than the whoreing out of the name to whatever cheap digital camera line the new owners of the company fancy. And it was at that moment – seeing a physical manifestation of memories – that my digital vault of pictures felt worthless in comparison. To not have to think twice before taking a picture is a concept that I found difficult to wrap my head around. She had the actual Polaroid camera laid out on her tray table too. We started chatting about the camera (it’s such a thing of beauty!), photography interests, Hong Kong, horror films, Greek philosophers and whatnot. The flight felt too short for that conversation…but it continued beyond that. I wrote earlier how the goalposts for social conversations had shifted; the act of sharing is what now defines a ‘Kodak moment’, and I have faith in the idea of a digital scrapbook, but she made me realise how much more powerful a physical artefact can be. A Twitpic isn’t a Polaroid taken aboard TR 2967. A note scribbled on a napkin at a restaurant serves much better as a memory than a hastily punched in note on a Foursquare check-in. It has taken me long to realise this. I think I’m going to hold on closely to the notebook journal I’m...

A change of perspective. A dialogue in the dark.

By on Feb 24, 2011 in Food For Thought | 7 comments

No, I didn’t get so exhausted by my first (mammoth) post of the year that I have stopped writing. I have a couple of draft blog posts that I need to edit and refine before I publish them. So much to say, so little time to do so due to ten academic courses, learning a new language, job applications / interviews, a TV studio director role, and a new pillow cover. Life, I tell you. ‘Tis like a grapefruit. But you know what? It’s curious how a difference of a few weeks can bring about a change of perspective. :) How things remain the same and yet not the same. Now, I feel glad to have opted for a full-year on study exchange. I have even more faith that the decision I took in 2009 to do this is worthwhile. I could speak now – or I could wait till the end of my stay in Singapore and speak wiser with added hindsight. You can figure out what I’m going to do, can’t you? You smart cookie! **** Fourteen storeys below my cosy and warm room, the noise from the traffic lights was incessant. Tick tick tick tick beep beep beep beep tick tick tick tick beep beep beep beep. I couldn’t sleep! Was it because of the part of town I was staying in? Should I have coughed up cash for a costlier hostel somewhere else? I went to Hong Kong a month ago, and while I will be writing about those adventures when I get time, I wanted to talk about an eye-opening (you’ll soon realize the significance of these choice of words) experience I had on the trip. I was looking up things to do in Hong Kong on Wikitravel from my hostel room there, when I stumbled across Dialogue In The Dark. It’s a one-of-a-kind of series of ‘experiential exhibitions’ across the world with the aim of increasing public awareness on issues surrounding visually impaired people in society. Intrigued, I put it on my HK itinerary. Let me state what the concept of Dialogue in the Dark is. Essentially, its purpose is to bring about a change of perspective. A sighted person is led to pitch black rooms where locations that a person might encounter in daily life are recreated – a clothing store, a theatre, a café, a garden, a busy road intersection, a street market – and guided around by a visually impaired guide. The roles are reversed; here, it is the sighted person who is out of his/her element. Dialogue In The Dark’s (DiD) Hong Kong chapter is in a shopping mall called The Household Center in Mei Foo, Kowloon district. It’s off the beaten track for most tourists. The mall itself is so different from the ones catering to tourists in Hong Kong (or Singapore for that matter) as it sells mostly Chinese goods; it is worth a whistlestop to see where residents go for shopping. All the while I was flitting about in the mall, never once did I see a tourist. Anyway, I hadn’t made a booking online as I couldn’t use my Singaporean debit card in Hong Kong, so I showed up at the DiD office and enquired whether they had any tour slots for the day. At first, I was told that there were no tours being conducted in English for the day. I was disappointed that I would have to miss this as wouldn’t have any other chance to do this (at least on that trip), and to my surprise the staff called me a quarter-hour later telling they’d organized one for me. At the start of the tour, I was handed a walking cane and introduced to my tour guide William. Over an hour-and-half he egged me on to explore my environment through my sense of touch, hearing, smell. It’s amazing how the human brain starts paying more attention to the other senses when sight is taken out of the equation. I felt leaves with my hands, trying to figure out what plant it was. I sat down on a park bench, feeling the smooth grain of the wood. “This one must be green in colour,” I told William. That was the first thing to came to mind when I thought of that texture. Almost silly, isn’t it. Above all, I felt guilty and embarrassed about saying that. How could I barge in and ‘definitely’ settle the look of an object with a person who couldn’t argue otherwise? I remember throughout the tour of being paranoid that there would be a staircase in our path and I’d fall. (There were none.) Nevertheless, I couldn’t just let go of that feeling of fear. I crossed a narrow walkway surrounded by water. I crossed a street – and then I realized what the tick tick tick beep beep beep sounds that the traffic lights in Hong Kong make were for. Even when I was crossing the road, I feared the traffic light would change, or I’d trip, or I wouldn’t know when to stop (you’ve to figure out when to stop by feeling the texture of the road/pavement through your shoes). There weren’t any cars to hit me there, which only drove home the point how much more challenging this is in real life. I tried to figure out what clothes were at a clothing store. Tried...

An idiot abroad examines his tiny tendrils of guilt

By on Jan 7, 2011 in Personal | 18 comments

On most days, I’d reserve these thoughts for my private blog. I have been vacillating since New Year’s Eve whether to publish this publicly or not. Maybe you’ll understand why as you read on. This is a disjointed, admittedly incoherent account of my state of emotions at the close of 2010. Maybe it’ll mean something, to at least a few who read this. **** My stay outside India came to define 2010 for me. Sifting through my blog archives, I would say it is a continuation of what I mentioned towards the end of last year – but saying that would be undermining, in a way, what I have learned in 2010. My decision to go to Singapore for a study exchange had a greater impact than I ever signed up for. The first half of 2010 – the second half of my first year at University of Surrey – had moments I am going to cherish throughout my life. I’m not saying this for the sake of saying it. This is not like those misused cases of using the word ‘literally’. I made friends at Surrey who are the sort who stick around for life – and with whom you’d want to stick around for life. And then, I gave it all up to go Singapore. Mind you, I don’t regret that decision. It showed me the value of what I had. What I walked away from. Singapore is that milestone I will look back to, as the place that made me fundamentally rethink friendships and relationships in my life. While I have enjoyed my cultural experience and made good friends in Singapore too, it made me realize how it isn’t the same. I was sad in 2009 that I wasn’t as frequently in touch with my Indian friends as I would have liked to. In 2010, I found myself out of touch with my Indian friends as well as the friends I made in my first year at Surrey. I have looked on with a certain despondency as friendships that mattered a lot to me get reduced to Facebook’s loose definition of a ‘friend’. I have had relationships strained as meaningful communication lost its hold, stretched by space and time displacement. Sometimes, I wonder how different things would have been had I not made the choices that I did. Sometimes, I wonder how things will turn out to be once I am back in the UK – or even India. When I meet my friends there again, maybe in 2011 or in 2012 when we’re back in university after placement year, I wonder whether things will be same. **** …every being in the universe is tied to his birthplace by tiny invisible force tendrils composed of little quantum packets of guilt. If you travel far from your birthplace, these tendrils get stretched and distorted. This compares with an ancient Arcturan Proverb “However fast the body travels, the soul travels at the speed of an Arcturan Mega-Camel.” – Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy **** I realize for the past half-decade, I have behaved as a social nomad. Changing school, taking a gap year, going to university and then deciding to do a year abroad – at each stage I had memorable experiences, but I know realize every time I did so, I wanted more. Many a kid who had parents with transferable jobs might have faced the same, but then, you sort of grow up knowing your primary school friends will drift apart, you are with family, and even then the displacements are a few years apart. I, on the other hand, have become part of vastly differing social circles in a span of less than five years. (Someone suggested I do this because I am an only child; that an only child of a parent fishes for independence and uniqueness. I thought…it’d be the other way round? I don’t know. Freud probably has written about this.) I fear that this urge to immerse myself in a new environment has come to define my way of living now. I assume this is what happens once you’ve learned BASE jumping or freehand rock climbing. After a while, it becomes the only way you get excited about life. After a while, it becomes the only way you can dream. **** Most of my friends in Singapore were exchange students; exchange students who usually stay for semester. I am not, I am one of the handful who chose to stay for the whole year. In addition to the obvious bonding among exchange students, I also made great Singaporean friends through my work at the TV station. All people who are excellent company to hang around with. Yet, the fleeting nature of our acquaintance came as a rude jolt to remind me at the end of the year that this really isn’t the same. Singapore itself is diversely multi-ethnic; this is especially true of Nanyang Technological University. You’ll find native Singaporeans, Malays, Indians, Chinese, Indonesians, citizens of other neighbouring countries; then you have exchange students from every country imaginable – the UK, USA, practically every country of the European Union, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, China, Africa. And yet, despite all this diversity, there is no unity. I don’t know why, but everyone just defaults to staying in their comfort zone of hanging around with folks of the...

Pigging Out

By on Dec 25, 2010 in Travel | 4 comments

A blog post about the time I ate pig intestines. But first… **** One of the reasons why I was excited about going on study exchange to Singapore, petty as it may seem, was that I wouldn’t have to cook for myself any. Thanks, Capitalism, why I do like cheap commercial food made by underpaid workers. This is partly due to how student housing in Singapore is different from Surrey. Instead of having individual houses with shared kitchens and a do-whatever-you-want approach, NTU Singapore has hostel-style accommodation. Cooking for yourself – unless you define that as, perhaps, eating instant ‘vegetarian-flavoured’ noodles – is not an option as the shared kitchens don’t have any food storage cabinets. Fair enough. I expected this would only result in a wider choice of food dishes for me to select from without having to lift so much as finger in preparation of said dishes. I couldn’t be more wrong. As I have mentioned earlier, it turns out that I have less choice now due to a lack of ‘vegetarian-flavoured’ dishes. What astonishes me – and many other people who I rant about this to (everyone I meet, that is) – is that I have been a vegetarian for 14-odd years, didn’t have a problem staying that way in the UK even when I had to cook for myself…yet, I have had to give it up in Singapore. (I was ranting once to my Singaporean friends how I never seem to able to find a vegetarian dish as a simple as a salad here. They listened to me, nodding along sympathetically, and then asked, “What’s salad?”) The realization that I would have to give it up hit me on my very first day here when I looked at the menu in canteens here. I know the sizeable South Indian student population, which mostly consists of vegetarians, live by eating dosa for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the all of four years they would be spending here but that was a choice I simply could not live with. I find it funny (in a cruel way) how these people order a burger at McDonald’s, throw the (chicken/fish/beef) patty away, and morosely chew on a plain bun for lunch. **** Ordering food in canteens is an experience I dread every meal. To give you an idea, canteens at NTU are like this… …multiple food stalls under one roof, each specializing in a different cuisine. On the surface, it would appear there’s a lot to choose from! But what do you do when you have no idea whatsoever what those choices mean? All the dishes listed have names in Bahasa Malay, Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese/Japanese/Korean names written in English rather than describing what the dish is. Here’s how ordering food in the canteens usually turns out for me… (Picture me standing in queue, trying to figure out what to order. I’m frantically trying to search up what a dish I fancy is on my cellphone when I realize it’s too late.) Canteen lady: Rice you wan? Or noodle wan? Me: Wha…YES! Canteen lady [dumping both rice and noodles on plate]: What else you wan? Me [feebly, pointing at a particular dish]: What’s that? Canteen lady: [insert Chinese swear-word here] You no ask. You tell. You wan? You point number on list. Me [panicking, people behind me in the queue get impatient]: I…erm…[chirp]…EVERYTHING! Canteen lady: Okay-lah. [hands plate piled to the ceiling with food] You give 53 dollars. Me: [chirp] This sort of experimenting, as you might have figured, ends up making a huge dent in my wallet. So I don’t. By now I have figured out a list of 10-12 dishes that I have found ‘safe’ and ‘nice to eat’ and I try to stick to those. Also, if I have to eat ‘xing zhou fried rice’ one more time this week from Canteen 2 (it’s the one closest to my hostel block) I am going to jump in front of a bus and end my life. **** As a newly converted ‘non-vegetarian’, I am slightly squeamish when it comes to trying out dishes that overtly involve getting messy or obviously appear to be an animal part in the final form in a dish. Every now and then though I pluck up the courage to try something…unique. So when my Singaporean friends from the student TV station here suggested having a bak kut teh dinner after exams (which finished this week) I immediately agreed. I then followed that up by searching what, exactly, I had just agreed to eat. Bak kut teh is one of Singapore’s famous dishes; ‘bak kut’ means ‘meat bone’, ‘teh’ means ‘tea’. Founder Bak Kut Teh on Balestier Road is Singapore’s most famous ‘BKT’ restaurant, and that’s where we decided to go. As we travelled on D-Day to Novena MRT station, I told my friends about my squeamishness about eating anything that was like…what I had seen online. They explained to me along the way what the dish is. Essentially, it is pork ribs in soup. What usually distinguishes one restaurant’s BKT from another’s is the soup that it comes with. The two main styles of preparing it (in Singapore at least), are the Teochew style, in which the soup is peppery; and the Hokkien style, in which the soup is flavoured with herbs. There’s no ‘tea’ involved in the sense of the word you’d...