A Travellerspoint blog


My Best Books of 2011


So, I read 24 books in 2011. These were my favourites of the bunch:

1. Too Much Happiness – Alice Munro

2. Zombies vs Unicorns – Justine Larbalestier & Holly Black, eds. (Yes, I did just include that, haters)

3. Perfume – Patrick Suskind

4. Finding George Orwell in Burma – Emma Larkin

5. The Enchantress of Florence – Salman Rushdie

6. The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye – A.S. Byatt

7. The Passion – Jeanette Winterson

8. A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Posted by DenaAllen 09:21 Archived in Thailand Tagged books Comments (0)

“I want my Bangkok back”

Red shirts, riot gear & bamboo rockets

overcast 27 °C

April 28, 2010 - 8:11 pm


“I’m sorry for all this,” the lady at the motorcycle taxi rank says to me with a sad sort of grimace. The queue is triple the length it usually is. Bangkok’s traffic – hideous on the best of days – has gone into a brutal gridlock as people rush home, worried that a military crackdown on the “red shirts” is imminent. The sky train and subway lines have been in disarray for days. Key roads are blocked by military and the protestors continue to paralyze the economic and commercial epicentre of Bangkok.

This woman doesn’t know me. But she feels compelled to apologize to me, the foreigner caught up in an internal conflict, for all the chaos and disorder her city has sunk into.

My Thai coworkers have done the same thing. They’ve sheepishly apologized to any of the expat staff within earshot for the current mayhem gripping the city they love. “I’m sorry!” they groan, “Bangkok is not usually like this!” and “My country is out of control right now!” I think it’s a strange reaction. They have nothing to do with the political turmoil and the civil strife – why are they apologizing to the collected farang?

“This makes us look crazy,” one of my best Thai friends lamented to me when the red shirts started throwing protestors’ blood at key political points around the city a few weeks back. “It makes us look like we’re some third world backwater. I want my Bangkok back.” From what I have seen, Thais are quite concerned about their standing in the eyes of the world. They want the country to be seen as an Asian tiger, not an Asian cuckoo.

“I think this is not good for tourism and the economy,” continues the woman waiting for her ride home. “Foreigners will be afraid to come here.” And it’s true. I’ve had friends on SE Asian swings change their travel plans just so as to avoid Thailand in general and Bangkok specifically. I’ve seen figures in the media reporting Bangkok hotel occupancy rates hovering somewhere around a dismal 20%. Ouch.


Today was not a good day for Bangkok. Tear gas, rubber bullets, live rounds fired into the air by the military, one soldier possibly killed, transportation chaos, tension running rampant through the city, and bamboo rockets (I had to ask a co-worker what these were – we don’t have bamboo in Canada, much less bamboo rockets. They’re basically explosives propelled through a hollow bamboo branch).

But it’s so weird, life goes on. The evening the official state of emergency was declared by the government I was out to dinner with some friends. We heard the news, sort of shrugged our shoulders and carried on to the pub. And April 10, when the military moved in trying to clear the barricaded red shirts and 25 people were killed and hundreds injured, I was at a yoga retreat on the beach in Koh Samui. None of the tourists sun-tanning themselves even knew what was going on. Thailand’s worst civil violence in two decades and they were all floating in the sea and downward dogging, blissfully unaware.

It’s because for the most part, the protests and fighting have been localized – contained in certain areas of the city – a pain in the ass fer sure, but relatively easy to avoid. But things have changed and the death toll has been climbing. In the last few weeks 27 people have been killed and approximately 900 injured. Bangkok residents don’t recognize their home city anymore.


The situation is radically different from last year when I wrote this post. And the tension has noticeably ratcheted up in the last few weeks. Living four doors down from the Prime Minister, I had a front-row seat when the red shirt traveling circus rolled down Suk 31 to splatter blood all over my poor neighbour’s front door. There were plenty of soldiers in full riot gear, but the atmosphere was downright festive amongst the red shirts. Things went down in the usual chill Thai style, even prompting this classic picture below of a grinning red shirt girl with obliging soldiers that was snapped by Newley Purnell. But there is no more smiling, now there are sharpened bamboo canes, water cannons, and tire barricades doused in fuel.


But somehow, the “only in Thailand” aspect is still there. This morning, my organization’s overworked and ubiquitous security advisor stood in front of my desk shaking his head in obvious amazement. “Last night I saw a formation of soldiers in full riot gear in the parking lot of Robinson’s department store on the corner of Sukhumvit 19,” he said. “There were officers with microphones shouting orders and warnings from the back of this military vehicle. Then they stopped shouting, and starting singing karaoke! The assembled crowd and the rest of the soldiers loved it! I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t have seen it with my own eyes.”

I don’t tell this anecdote to downplay the gravity of the situation, people are dying. Most people want it to stop. But seriously, only in Thailand.

Posted by DenaAllen 06:08 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Fit to work in the Kingdom

My (almost) year-long pursuit of a Thai work permit

sunny 32 °C

Eleven and a half months into my job, I have finally been approved for a Thai work permit. The human resources department informs me this is actually pretty quick moving. In order to finish processing my application, the Ministry of Labour needs a certificate stating that I am medically fit to work in the Kingdom.


What requirements must I meet to be deemed medically fit? I need to be free of leprosy, tuberculosis, elephantitis, and syphilis. I can’t be a drug addict or an alcoholic. Well, apparently they could tell all that just by looking at me.

Ok to be fair, the uber-posh medical establishment I will not here name, did in fact conduct the most perfunctory of examinations. The nurse weighed me and took my blood pressure. The doctor put his stethoscope on my clothed chest and listened to my breathing. He pulled my bottom eyelid down and looked in my pupil. One of them.

Five minutes and twenty bucks later, sunshade held aloft by a valet, I waited for the next taxi in line, medical certificate in hand!


Let’s not even talk about the ridiculous measures it took to get me to this point! REAMS of paperwork. In triplicate. In Thai (God bless the good people of the human resources department!) A criminal record check. A name search through the INTERPOL database for the love of Buddha!

A trip clear across town to the police station so the boys in brown could “interrogate” me. Truth be told, they seemed waaaaaay more interested in quizzing me as to whether I had a boyfriend back in Canada than they were in investigating my criminal past (A direct quote from the officer in charge - “No boyfriend? What? Are all the men in Canada blind??”)


The Ministry folks even disputed the photocopies of my Bachelors and Masters degrees and asked if I had the originals. Uh-huh. In a frame. In a box. In my parents’ basement. In Canada. They grumbled but made due with the photocopies.

Armed with my medical certificate, HR is making the final onslaught for the long-awaited work permit. Today I was presented with another mass of documents, elaborately tabbed with those little arrow stickies where I need to sign. Fingers crossed, it should only be a few more months.

Posted by DenaAllen 05:37 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Long live the King

"Every Monday, pink."

sunny 27 °C

December 7, 11:30 AM


Rush hour on the Bangkok skytrain, hordes of suited business commuters, giggling students, scrubbed up farang English teachers, yummy mummies toting yoga mats, camera-laden tourists and kids heading to the mall. Rushing, running, dashing onto trains. 6 pm on the dot. The Thai national anthem starts streaming from the PA system and the entire crowd just stops. Stalk still. Standing. At attention. Quiet where 5 seconds ago it was chaos. The tourists look confused.

Same same but different. 8 am. Cruising by the university and government buildings on the back of my motorbike taxi, wee bit late for work. The anthem comes pouring out of the loudspeakers and all the uni kids and civil servants stand still in the middle of the road. My bike whizzes by, pays the nation no mind. The music stops and they hustle on to classes and offices, swinging school bags and briefcases.


Popcorn and iced green tea. Never-ending previews. Now the little spot to tell you to turn your cell phone off. Is the movie gonna start?? The music swells, everyone gets to their feet. Stands reverently still. The benevolent face of King Bhumibol Adulyadej emerges onscreen. Highlights of his reign are played out, his earnest face, his scholar’s glasses, thin but stately in his monk’s robes. Crisply saluting the military. Laying his hands on the head of an emotionally-overcome subject. His always smiling Queen.

Friday night video hits on TV. Korean pop stars, Thai bad-boy rockers in high-tops, lethal doses of lipgloss. Rolling across the bottom of the screen, where pre-pubescent teens text in flirty messages to their friends at 10 baht a pop, “Long live the King” over and over and over…


Swanky spa. Popping in for a little mani-pedi combo. Mix of well-heeled Hi-So Thai, Japanese housewives, farang business chicks. My feet in soapy water, sipping jasmine tea and flipping through fashion mags I can’t read a word of. On the wall and tucked away on the shelves with the gleaming row of nail polishes, framed photos of the Queen when she was young and 60s glam. The epitome of Thai beauty & regal fidelity enshrined.

Monday at the office. Pink golf shirts abound. Small regal crest on the left shoulder. “It’s in honour of the King,” my office mate tells me. “His colour used to be yellow. But now because the protesters against Thaksin use that colour, his colour is now pink. Every Monday, pink.”

Posted by DenaAllen 20:58 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Contradictions on the morning commute

sunny 26 °C

October 22, 3: 27 pm


Stopped at a red light on the back of my motorbike taxi. Exhaust fumes, early morning humidity, caffeine cravings, mental to-do list for the day running through my mind as I wait for the light to turn.

Sukhumvit Road, in the heart of Bangkok’s financial district, at 8 am on a weekday morning is packed solid with business commuters and Thailand’s white-collar troops heading into the office. So the line of young novice monks, in their bright orange robes and holding brass beggar bowls, looked rather incongruous as they made their way down the crowded sidewalk.

They looked to range in ages from about 10 to 17 and were being led by an older monk in a robe of a more sedate burnt shade of orange. The good and hurried people of Bangkok made plenty of way to let them pass. No one batted an eyelash at what looked to me a rather anachronistic sight amidst all the spikey-waxed hair of BKK executive hipsters and high heels clicking down concrete.

The line stopped at the cart of a street hawker selling chicken and beef skewers he was grilling up on the corner. The middle-aged man came out from behind his cart, make a full obeisance, getting right down onto his knees on the dirty sidewalk and touched the feet of the young monks in turn. Standing up, he put money in their brass bowls and freshly grilled meat in their hands.

The line of young monks continued on their way, the street seller went back to serving up quick bbq breakfasts and my mototaxi leapt back into life, whisking me into my office of glass and steel.


Posted by DenaAllen 06:32 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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