You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Thailand’ tag.

e3f4c832453cc5d0324911942eaee398.jpegBecause of last week’s post about the Thai coronation I got sucked into spooling through pictures of the astonishingly beautiful and crazy sights of Thailand.  We really need to all visit that exquisitely beautiful land! What a place!

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At any rate, as long-term Ferrebeekeeper readers will recall, I once made a (sadly unpublished) book on how to build toy vehicles out of household refuse.  The industrious Buddhist monks of Thailand however did not stop at making toys.  Thus, the temple which most caught my eye was Wat Pa Maha Chedio Kaew also named “Temple of Million Bottles.”  As you can tell by the name, this temple (and all of its outbuildings like the crematorium and the restrooms) are built of empty bottles which have been carefully mortared together to form an exquisite .  Actually though, the name is a bit of a misnomer–thus far the complex is constructed not of a million bottles but of around a million and a half bottles.

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The project started back in 1984, when some monks decided to clean up the refuse around their temple.  Perceiving the inner beauty of the discarded beer bottles, the monastics chose not to throw them away, but instead to clean them and use the brown and green glass vessels for constructing temple accessories.  The project took on a life of its own as visitors brought ever more bottles–mostly Heineken bottles (green) and Chang Beer bottles (brown).

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Anyone who has ever tried to piece together recalcitrant materials into desired order will start to fathom the scope of the monks’ accomplishment.  Beyond the novelty of the material and the satisfying moral component of seeing something so complete made of something everyone throws away, the temple is simply beautiful though.   Buildings in America are made of heavily regulated prefabricated materials expressly created for crafting buildings…and yet so many new buildings here are appallingly heart-wrenchingly ugly.  Perhaps we could take some lessons from the monks not just in upcycling but also in imagination, patience, and craft.

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Yet even if that isn’t going to happen, you can still contemplate the shadow side of Maha Chedio Kaew: in order for it to exist people drank one and a half million beers.  That is a moral lesson which the Frauenkirche simply does not offer.

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Condolences to the people of Thailand. Today (October 13, 2016) we bid farewell to world’s longest reigning king, Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, also known as Rama IX.  Born in 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bhumibol became king in June of 1946 and has continuously reigned since then.

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Ferrebeekeeper blogged about the king of Thailand before.  He was the richest and most powerful monarch in the world (with the possible exceptions of the king of Saudi Arabia or Vladimir Putin).  His subjects treated him as a living bodhisattva or god and he lived in vast palaces and rode on huge golden dragon barges. To a citizen of a Republic, it seems obscene for one man to personally control so much of a kingdom’s wealth (although frankly America has been falling short on our own austere Republican virtues these days).  It is strange to think that all of this power and wealth was going to go to Bhumibol’s brother, King Ananda Mahidol —before Ananda was murdered by being shot in the forehead. Fortunately a privy court hanged some random low-status servants after a shabby show trial—thus laying any questions about the exceedingly mysterious events to rest forever.

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King Bhumibol was a very loyal friend to America for 7 decades.  It startles me how swiftly the Cold War is passing from everyone’s memories, but Bhumibol helped the Western Democracies to win it.  His intelligence, forbearance, and natural political savvy helped Thailand stabilize South East Asia and prevent communism from spreading there (it also made Thailand the preeminent regional power). Bhumibol, a constitutional monarch eschewed direct levers of power. He was tremendously beloved by his subjects, which has always been difficult for a leader and is even more difficult in today’s wired world..  People who met him praised him as warm and sincere.

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Rereading this obituary I realize it sounds like a backhanded compliment.  It isn’t meant to be.  The papers today are full of claptrap which obscure Bhomibal’s political skill, his adroit ability to run Thailand from the shadows while ministers and generals came and went, and–above all–his iron will. He will truly be missed.  It will be majestic to see the Great Crown of Victory come out of its vault so that the playboy Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn can set it upon his own brow (for nobody else has sufficient status to grant the throne of Thailand to him) and become the new king. However it is sad to bid farewell to such a stalwart ally, gifted political player, and interesting man.  It also raises worries about the stability of Thailand once a period of national mourning has passed.

Dusky leaf monkey, Trachypithecus obscurus - Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand. Photo by Thai National Parks.

Dusky leaf monkey, Trachypithecus obscurus – Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand. Photo by Thai National Parks.

I have been wanting to expand Ferrebeekeeper’s “mammals” categories by writing more about primates…but primates are really close cousins.  They are so near to us on the tree of life that it is tricky to write about them.  Monkeys and apes venture into the uncanny valley…that uneasy psychological chasm that contains things that are very much like humans, but clearly are not humans.

The Dusky leaf monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus)

The Dusky leaf monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus)

Therefore, in order to ease us into the subject of primatology, I am going to start with the spectacled langur aka dusky leaf monkey (or, more properly Trachypithecus obscurus).  This is a beautiful langur which lives in the dense rainforests of Malaysia, Burma, and Thailand, but realtively little seems to be known about the creatures. Adult male dusky leaf monkeys weighs approximately 8.3 kilograms (18 pounds). Females are somewhat smaller.  The monkeys live in troops of about ten or a dozen and they subsist on a variety of tropical fruits and nuts (supplemented perhaps occasionally with other vegetables or small animals).  Infants are born orange, but quickly turn dark gray with the distinctive “spectacles” for which the species in known. I don’t really have a great deal of information about these monkeys, but I am blogging about them anyway because they are adorable!  Just look at these young langurs.  This is exactly the sort of cute introduction which we need to get us started on the topic of primates.  We will work on the serious grim monkeys later!

Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus) photo by Petfles

Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus) photo by Petfles

We all know that South Asia and East Asia feature the most populous cities and nations on the planet…in terms of human life. But is this true for ducks as well? Here is a humorous/nightmarish/cute/troubling (?) video clip of hundreds of thousands of ducks stampeding through the roads of a town in Thailand. I was unable to find out all the details, but I will let the madness speak for itself. Keep watching the video—there is an intermission, but more ducks are on the way!
By means of translation and interviews, Yahoo news has provided us with some of the details of this avian stampede writing that, “Jack Sarathat lives in Thailand and was driving through Nakhon Pathom, about an hour west of Bangkok. Suddenly he was forced to bring his car to a halt. About 100,000 ducks were on the loose and taking over the rural road in the Bang Len district.”

Although we know the place and the person on camera, we still don’t know why these ducks were on the move or where they were from (though it must have been some sort of industrial duck farm clearing inventory). The article says that none of the ducks were injured, but they look far too delicious for me to believe that without question.
This video contextualizes the earlier post about Zhu Yigui, a Fujianese duck farmer, who rose to be rebel king of Formosa before the Chinese authorities of the day crushed him like an egg. It is possible I snickered some when I read that his qualification for leadership was the ability to train and lead ducks. I am not laughing now—it is obvious that ducks in aggregate are a mighty force!

Artist's Interpretation

Artist’s Interpretation

The Great Crown of Victory

I think the crown of the king of Thailand is one of the most spectacular and noteworthy extant crowns.  It is known as the Phra Maha Phichai Mongkut or “great crown of victory” and it is only worn by the king when he ascends the throne.  Made for King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (aka Rama I) in 1782, the crown is a soaring multi-tiered conical structure reminiscent of a particularly ornate stupa. It was manufactured from 15 pounds of gold ornamented with red and green enamel. A subsequent king of Siam, Rama IV, had diamonds added to the crown including the Phra Maha Wichian Mani, a huge Indian diamond which was set at the apex. Perhaps the magnificence and unique appearance of the headdress are appropriate, since it belongs to King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving head of state and one of the few contemporary monarchs to wield any real power over his nation.  Additionally, King Bhumibol is reckoned by Forbes to be the richest of the world’s current monarchs.  He ascended to the throne of Thailand in 1946 after his brother’s death by gunshot (although he did not assume the great crown of victory until 1950).  Tragically, Bhumibol was probably the last person to see his brother alive.  To quote Wikipedia, “During his long reign he has seen over 15 coups, 16 constitutions, and 27 changes of prime ministers.”

King Bhumibol Wearing the Great Crown of Victory on his Coronation Day

Aside from the great crown of victory, the Thai monarch has 27 other items of royal regalia including the the Sword of Victory, the Royal Staff, the Royal Fan (or Flywhisk), and the Royal Slippers (ฉลองพระบาท).  These items are kept for the king (along with other royal items) at the Grand Palace in Bankok.  It may seem impressive that King Bhumibol, has more pieces of royal regalia at his palace than I have socks, but his flywhisk and slippers pale to insignificance beside his monstrous gold carriage, the 33 foot tall Phra Maha Phichai Ratcarot and his fleet of carved, gilded barges.

The King's Royal Carriage

and his royal barges....

The Glass Catfish, Kryptopterus bicirrhis (An exceptional photo by Holger Knudsen)

The most transparent known vertebrates are the Asian glass catfish of the genus Kryptopterus.  The two most popular species are Kryptopterus minor, the ghost catfish, and Kryptopterus bicirrhis, commonly known as the glass catfish, which is a mainstay in the tropical aquarium.

Asian glass catfishes live in slow turbid streams throughout Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.  They are schooling predators who feed on tiny arthropods, worms, and minnow fry. Camaraderie is important for the little fish—outside of a school, individuals rarely survive (even in an aquarium where all of their other needs are met and they lack predators).  Their remarkable transparency serves as camouflage, hiding them from predator and prey alike.  Growing to a maximum of four inches the catfish live for up to eight years.

A School of Glass Catfish

Asian glass catfish are scaleless and lack pigment, however the cellular dynamics of their transparent tissues are still not fully understood.  In living specimens, the animal’s skeleton is quite visible and its internal organs can be seen with a silver sack.  A viewer with a powerful magnifying glass can watch the fish’s heartbeat and determine the contents of its stomach.  When the catfish dies so does its transparency–after death they turn an opaque white.

The catfish is commercially important for the aquarium trade.  It seems possible that exporters in South East Asia have devised a way to breed the fish en masse, but, if so, it is wholly unknown in the west. The Phantom Glass Catfish is also a major ingredient of some of the salty fish sauces used in Malaysian and Indonesian cooking.

The walking catfish, Clarias batrachus, hails from Thailand, where it goes under the less-catchy title of Pla duk dam (dull colored wriggling-fish).  This walking catfish is indeed capable of leaving water to travel across dry land, which gives it a huge advantage over local fish who can’t escape pools and ponds that are drying out.  Additionally, the catfish is able to eat the tadpoles, insect larvae, and crayfish which live in seasonal pools and would ordinarily escape from fish predation.  In many ways it is analogous to snapping turtles and water tigers.

The catfish has spread across South East Asia, India, Australia, and the Middle East. It showed up in Florida in the 1960s (probably looking for a party).  Sometimes floods bring the catfish out of the storm sewers where they live and residents are shocked to find their gardens filled with writhing mustachioed fish.  They are successful despite the perils of living in populated areas:  route 41 occasionally becomes dangerously slippery because of all the smashed catfish.

Taking a Stroll through the 'Burbs

Although his catfishy head does look a bit insect-like, I find the walking catfish curiously endearing.  But don’t be taken in by his riverboat-gambler good looks!  The walking catfish (and all other members of the family Clariidae) have fallen afoul of the Feds.  They are classified as injurious wildlife and it is illegal to harbour them.  Some Floridians even devour them on sight, as in this picture which illustrates how society is protected by a thin blue line heron.

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