Saturday, January 23, 2016

Thai Reflections

The decorations inside Bangkok taxis are sometimes literally a reflection of Thai culture and Thai ways of thinking. Many Bangkok cabbies place images of the Buddha, revered Thai monks, and other auspicious symbols on their dashboards to cast reflections onto their windows. This picture of the Buddha statue not only reveals the religious beliefs of many Thais, but also brings to light the ingenuity and aesthetic sensibilities of many Thai people. I probably would have never thought to do this myself, but the effect that the reflection creates is both serene and ethereal.  

Friday, January 1, 2016

from SLIMV

May you enjoy the ride 
on the way to your destination  
in the coming year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Burmese Taxis

During the past ten days while traveling in and around Mandalay, I took a few taxis just to compare them with Bangkok cabs. The main difference is that you always have to negotiate the fares in Mandalay, while in Bangkok passengers can usually rely on the set price of the meters. The other difference is that Mandalay taxis are painted white on their exteriors compared to the plethora of cab colors in Bangkok. What makes the taxis similar are the Buddhist decorations, flower offerings, and superstitious paraphernalia on the dashboards and hanging from rearview mirrors. The taxis in Mandalay also commonly include an accoutrement that can be found in many Bangkok cabs: Glade air fresheners.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let the Festivities Begin!

Thailand should be called the land of festivals and holidays, especially at this time of year. Tomorrow is Loy Krathong, an annual festival that involves floating small decorative 'krathongs' traditionally made from slices of palm trees, banana leaves, and flowers, down rivers and canals to appease the water goddess. Next is the King's birthday in early December which will involve a 'Bike for Dad' event this year to celebrate his 88th birthday. Then, of course, comes Christmas and New Year's. One of the highlights in Bangkok during this season is the sparkling lights on the trees near Chitralada Palace. Alternatively, you can make a trip to one of the city's mega-malls to check out all the Christmas decorations. Never mind the brash commercialism and the fact that most Thais are Buddhist.       

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Op Art Taxi

Today, when I got into this taxi with the undulating stripes on the ceiling, I felt like I had stepped into some kind of mind-blowing Op Art artwork from the 1960s. The effect was dizzying and disquieting. I tried looking away, but it was impossible to escape from the groovy patterns as all of the seats, doors, and even the steering wheel was covered with this trippy design. When I finally arrived at my destination and got out of the taxi, I was happy to make a break from the illusionistic "art" in the cab and arrive safely back in the year of 2015.    
                                Victor Vasarely, Op Art Painting

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bangkok Boo!

Considering how many Thais have lived and traveled abroad, and taking into account how much the Western world has influenced Thai culture, it's not surprising that Halloween has begun to catch on here. More and more Thais are dressing up in costume for the occasion, Halloween parties are becoming more common here, it's getting easier to find trick-or-treat candy in the stores in Bangkok, and it's not unusual to see decorations with witches, pumpkins, ghosts, and goblins in certain businesses these days. Even some Bangkok taxi drivers are getting into the spirit, like this cabbie whose ghost face stares hauntingly at passengers in the backseat of his cab.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Thai Fast Food

While there are many international fast food franchises in Thailand, the concept of drive-thru windows has never caught on here. Perhaps most Thais would rather eat-in at these kinds of joints. Or maybe they're so used to food vendors approaching them while waiting at stoplights that they don't want to bother placing their order at a faceless microphone and picking up their food at another window. Today, my cabbie bought fried bananas and fried sweet potatoes from this seller standing on the road. The best part was that he shared some with me, and to tell you the truth, I would take her treats over a fast food burger any day.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Positive Vibration

If there was a soundtrack of popular English language songs regularly covered and played in Thailand, it would have to include at least one Bob Marley song. Probably the most well-liked tune of his that you can hear on every Thai beach and on Bangkok's infamous center of backpacker culture, Khao San Road, is No Woman, No Cry. Today in the taxi, even my cabbie was bobbing to the beat of reggae music blasting on his car stereo as his rastafarian talisman led the way. Decked out in the obligatory red, yellow, and green, and standing near an image of the Buddha and a Thai monk on the dashboard, this smily character brought to mind another Marley track, Positive Vibration. Here's an original performance of the song from 1978. Enjoy. 

Friday, September 18, 2015


I once read that the term "okay" is the most recognized word in the world, and in Thailand, taxi drivers use it a lot. Cabbies here also love to express their approval of something by saying that its "number 1". For example, when I speak Thai to the drivers, they often say, "you speak Thai #1".  And then, of course, there's always the thumbs up signal which, in my opinion, is the ultimate universal gesture of endorsement.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded." 
- The Buddha

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Smart Driver

I hear a lot of folks in Bangkok, both Thais and foreigners, grumbling about the taxi drivers in this city, but rarely do you hear people raving about the ones who are friendly, polite, honest, trustworthy, or smart. While it's true that some Bangkok taxi drivers can be gruff and unhelpful, my experience is that the vast majority of cabbies in our City of Angels are good-natured fellas who are just trying to make an honest living. On the way home today, my conscientious driver took a short-cut to save me a few baht and some time, adjusted my seat and the air temperature for comfort, and was apologetic for his lack of good English skills, which, contrary to his belief, were excellent. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Christmas in July

Have a Holly Jolly...Buddha? For someone who's just arrived in Thailand, it might seem strange to see all the Christmas garlands and other seasonal trimmings used as decorations all year long, but if you've spent some time here like me, you barely notice it after a while. So, never mind that blinking Christmas tree in the corner of the mom and pop restaurant in July or the glittery banner wishing you a "Happy New Year!" in a public bus in summer. Be Merry and Jolly all year long!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Good vs. Evil

Being in good spirits this afternoon, I decided to strike up a conversation with the driver of this taxi by asking him about his collection of Buddhist amulets and small statues of revered monks on his dashboard. According to the cabby, most of them are there to protect him from evil spirits. But after answering my initial question, he gave me the cold shoulder. I hope that he didn't consider me to be one of the "evil spirits" to which he was referring.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path."  - The Buddha

Monday, May 25, 2015

It has been more than a week since Thailand lost one its most revered monks, Luang Phor Koon. Many Thais, including taxi drivers, have long looked to him for guidance, especially relating to finances as he was known for his ability to raise millions of baht to build temples and schools in Nakorn Ratchasima Province where he was an abbot at Wat Ban Rai. Born in 1923, he dedicated most of his life to studying Buddhist teachings and to helping the needy. He will be missed by many, but his memory will live on in the hearts of many Thais and in the form of amulets, small statues, and stickers in Bangkok taxis.  

Friday, May 1, 2015

Taxi Taxi!

In Thai culture, two always packs more punch than one. After all, this is the home of the original Siamese twins. In the local language, words are often repeated for emphasis, and even when English is used, you often hear the "same same" words spoken twice. In the case of Bangkok taxis, it is common to see duplicate decorations on dashboards and in the back of cabs. I'm wondering if these cloned characters and twin talismans are supposed to bring double the luck, or did the cabbies simply pick them up at "Buy one, Get one" sales.        

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth."  
- The Buddha  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Get Wet!

Today kicks off the three-day Thai New Year celebration known as Songkran. Traditionally, the festival involves gently pouring water over the hands of others, as well as Buddha statues, as a gesture of purification and cleansing. In more recent times, however, the celebration has turned into an all out widespread water fight. If you happen to be in places like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, plan on get completely drenched with water, or better yet, grab your Super Soaker and join in the fun! 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Today marks the 60th Birthday of Thailand's beloved Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, or Princess Prathep, as she is commonly called. There are countless celebrations around the country today, and driving around Bangkok, one can't help but notice all of the photos of her currently displayed throughout the city. Sometimes you can even spot her picture inside businesses and vehicles, and this afternoon I just happened to get in a cab that had this classic image of her posted above the driver's seatbelt. 
Happy Birthday to HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn!   

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Buddha Tunes

All I wanted to do in the back of the taxi today was to listen to a new album using my headphones. But the driver had different plans for me. He popped in a cassette tape from the 80's and cranked up the volume to the point where I needed to turn up my own music to drown out the noise. If that wasn't annoying enough, every few minutes he tried to get my attention and carry on a conversation by yelling over his ear-splitting music. He apparently didn't notice (or care) that I was wearing huge red headphones and was trying to jam to the beat of my own tunes.       

Thursday, March 19, 2015

SLIMV X Cool Hunting

Last month, videographer Greg Stefano and writer Graham Hiemstra from the award-winning website Cool Hunting flew over from New York to interrogate me about the Bangkok taxi scene and learn all about Thai lucky charms. Here's the video that transpired from our get-together in the local amulet market where we perused all kinds of talismans and talked about the power of belief.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Check It Out

I usually refrain from featuring gizmos and tech news on this blog, but there's a new free phone app for rating Bangkok taxi rides that some Still Life readers might find appealing. Designed for both iOS and Android, it was recently launched by the Thai Department of Land Transport and is called DLT Check-In. I downloaded it a few days ago and it's super user-friendly. When you open the application for the first time, all you need to do is choose English or Thai language and enter your phone number. Then, when you want to rate your experience in a Bangkok taxi, you take a snapshot of the taxi license number posted on the passenger door or enter the number manually and evaluate the driver and the vehicle itself. According to a statement issued by the DLT, cabbies who consistently receive bad reviews will be reprimanded, while those who receive positive feedback will be rewarded with a certificate to display in their cab. While the new app is a welcome addition and will hopefully improve the quality of service in Bangkok taxis, the DLT forgot one thing: allowing passengers to rate the Buddha images, sacred decorations, and other trimmings inside the cabs.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Holographic Taxi

The first thing I noticed in the taxi today was a giant hologram on the ceiling. When you tilt your head back just so, you see images of nine Buddhas on clay tablets, and if you lean your head just a bit the other way, three rows of seated monks come into view. Not only did the hologram help bring the images of the Buddhas and monks to life, it transformed the everyday experience of riding in a taxi into a mystical moment.   

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Happy Chinese New Year!

Wishing you luck in the year of the Ram
(especially if you take any Bangkok taxis)

Monday, February 2, 2015

No Crazies

Stickers prohibiting passengers from smoking, drinking, eating, and a host of other activities are commonly found on the windows of Bangkok taxis. But I've never seen one quite like this before. I'm still not exactly sure what it is trying to communicate. Apparently, enraged people with curlers in their hair shouldn't shout, ask questions, wave their hand, or act like a buffalo which has a derogatory meaning in Thailand referring to one's intellectual capacity.        

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Thai Pillow Talk

Triangle-shaped pillows, or mon sam lieam as they are known in Thai, have been around for centuries in this culture. Some Thais still use them in their houses, and you can find them all over Thailand in local restaurants, hotel lobbies with traditional furnishings, and even in some Bangkok taxis. They come in a variety of sizes, but this particular one is perfect for the back of a cab. Despite its stiff appearance, they are surprisingly comfortable, and as we sat at a red light for what seemed an eternity, I sprawled across the backseat, tucked the triangle pillow under my head, and took a snooze.        

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Kid's Day

Today is National Children's Day in Thailand, or Wan Dek Haeng Chat. Celebrated every year on the second Saturday of January, it's the perfect day to hop in a taxi filled with toys and head to the zoo in Bangkok or to one of the many activities for kids sponsored by government agencies. On the other hand, if you're looking for peace and quiet today, I suggest you stay out of the malls and ice cream shops.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

In celebration of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday, today is a national holiday in Thailand. Since his birthday falls on a Friday this year, we are fortunate to have a long holiday weekend. Many Thais head straight to the beach and some make a beeline for the mall. Regardless of where the locals are spending their time this weekend, most don a yellow shirt. Why yellow you ask? Thais associate this color with Monday, the day of the week on which he was born, and anyway, it looks a little bit like gold, the color (and precious metal) that symbolizes royalty.   

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Military Chic

From khakis to camouflage to combat boots and shirts with epaulets on the shoulders, military style seems to be all the rage in Bangkok. While some of the accoutrements look like they came directly from Army surplus shops, most of the items are military-inspired. Considering how many Thais follow the latest trends, I'm wondering if this look is coming from the runways of Paris and New York, or whether it has something to do with the influence of the military junta currently running the country.    

Thursday, November 13, 2014

American Fever

The influence of American culture in Thailand is especially strong among a certain generation that grew up around American GI's who were here during the Vietnam War era. Many of these Thai baby boomers like to wear Levi's jeans, listen to songs by the Eagles, drink Coke, and smoke Marlboro cigarettes. Today, my cabby was even wearing a shirt with an American flag patch emblazoned on it. He told me that he once had the opportunity to go and work in the US, but he decided to stay in Thailand. He was afraid he would get homesick, and anyway, he told me that his brother moved to California and can send him anything he wants from the States.           

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Going Bananas

Lately, I've been noticing a lot of bananas setting in back windows and on dashboards in Bangkok taxis. One driver told me that they are an offering to the gods. Another cabbie explained how they attract more customers and compared his passengers to monkeys. Then one taxi driver told me that they were ripening in the sun and that he couldn't wait to eat one. And finally another cabbie informed me that they were there to provide protection. As he recklessly swerved in and out of traffic, I prayed that his bananas were working.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Yin and the Yang

As I sat in a taxi staring at a sticker in the form of an eight-sided Chinese bagua with a yin yang symbol in the center, I wondered if the driver was trying to provide a sense of well-being and balance for his passengers in the backseat. Certainly, I, myself, could use some of the positive energy that this feng shui diagram is supposed to impart. Yet, the placement seemed odd. These symbols are typically found on doorways, at dead-ends, in offices, and in homes. The few times that I've seen them inside cabs, they were in the front of the vehicle. My curiosity finally got the best of me and I decided to ask the taxi driver why he put this sticker on the back of the front seat. It turns out that it's covering up a hole in the vinyl upholstery.