Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Southeast Asian Fulbright Conference 2011

This past week, Fulbright researchers throughout Southeast Asia came together to share their work in presentations for 4 days and nights at the beautiful Dusit Thani Hotel near Lumpini Park in Bangkok.

The final evening we dressed in the traditional apparel of our host countries for a gala held at the National Museum. There we also appreciated traditional arts of Thailand including dancing, live music, and activities including fruit-carving, flower-garland making and bean desserts (photographed above).

Melon Carving ~ Something to try next holiday picnic!

Colleagues shared their work through slideshow presentations and video. Here are a few notes that summarize the fascinating presentations I saw:

  • One Fulbrighter and coffee connoisseur told us about her work in Vietnam, which is the world’s second largest supplier of coffee beans(!) mainly in the form of small, family-run farms that sell to local distributors and then to instant coffee companies.
  • Another colleague studying urban planning in Singapore explains the complex issues of identity and freedom in a nation that is as multicultural as it is highly monitored.
  • In Cambodia, creativity in industrial design is a valuable commodity that one Fulbrighter from Rhode Island School of Design provides through the redesign of a water purification system with a local, forward thinking company.
  • The Akha are an ethnic minority with a presence in Thailand, southern China, and Burma. Their language existed only orally until a recent conference supported by China when a written form was created- into three different kinds of script for each country where they are present!

Thai dancer in a bird-like costume enchants us in her shiny gold outfit.

  • In the Philippines, a beautiful oral tradition in a remote northern island is now being lost. When sung, the language’s jargon distinguishes the many types of fishing and bodies of water specific to the region that makes it useful for communities to address issues as a group.
  • After alluding to the movie and tv sitcom Outsourced, one Fulbrighter explains how Manila is oft referred to as the “back office” of the world --and has recently helped the Philippines surpass India as the preferred country for outsourcing! Apparently, Filipinos have gained the cultural reputation for being more patient and better listeners. The English spoken in the Philippines is easier for American callers to understand as opposed to the British accent of most Indians.
  • Another Fulbrighter in the Philippines researches trafficking with her husband who helps interview women for her upcoming book "The Low-Flying Dove."

Chefs at the gala - Giving me even more reason to love Thai food

  • In Indonesia, one professor explains to us that the jilbab or headscarf is less a sign of religious piety to Islam than the recitation of the Quaran in Arabic. Here, the head covering is a fashionable accessory of one's cosmopolitan wardrobe - proving that understanding context is key to reading what clothing expresses to the wearer.
  • In a small region of Malaysia, one Fulbright researcher and dancer spends her days promoting and documenting all-female troup performances of an elegant indigenous dance where only female spectators are allowed… unless a male character plays the clown role! After twenty years of being forbidden, this exceptional art form survives in schools where it is taught as a prescribed (though still beautiful!) discipline instead of being celebrated as the spiritual ceremony it once was.

Kelly sporting northern Thai hair accessory

Listening and moderating for the panels titled Art & Culture and Art & Education respectively, I learned that my previous classmate and friend from Holy Cross Mr. John Vo is a visual artist and Fulbright researcher in Vietnam. His paintings reflect a sincere appreciation for his family’s Vietnamese heritage.

Thin verticals are outstretched arms the length of the canvas against an uninterrupted background of water and sky in shades of blue. The image is emotional, inspired by a story his grandmother recounted to him years ago and remained etched in his memory ever since. While exploring traditional art mediums of Vietnamese culture, his interactions with students encourage originality instead of copying masterworks, which is a more common practice at his art school.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Paint the Town Red: Dance Clubs & Sky Bars

Sometimes the stars align and fate says you are exactly where you are meant to be. Bangkok's roof top bars are among the best in the world. Looking forward to making it to QBar, Nest, and Long Table, a few of the best restaurants and sky bars in the city. The view from Vertigo is breathtaking and romantic, a perfect way to start the evening.
Some nights are just for dancing! Recently at Bed Supper Club Bangkok, the effect of image, sound, space and a good cocktail got me in the perfect mood.
*All images from the clubs' and bars' websites.
A capsule-shaped building at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 11 (near Nana BTS station), Bed has a white minimalist interior with glowing, hot-pink illumination.
I didn't know it at the time, but the upscale club/restaurant is also an art gallery and theatre.
Somehow I slipped in without an ID but my advice is to always bring one.
On our arrival the first dance floor resounded with house music, the techno-musings of cool d.j. Josh E. and a cutie Thai drummer. A chill second floor loft above was occupied by guests lounging in beds after a late dinner.
We skipped over to the second room to hear Latin, hip hop, and Asian fusion. Alleesha and I promptly took post on the center stage beside the six foot models surrounding us. Feeling like dwarves we attempted to show them up with our dance moves, if such a thing is possible.
After Bed headed to club DJ, where the music videos are better and there are fun pop and rap mixes with lyrics so you can almost always join in the sing-a-long. Shakin' to songs by Enrique Iglesias, Britney Spears, and the rest of the best, I never felt so much love from fellow dancers before. This gay night club got my endorphins going like a gym workout and raised my standards for the % alcohol other clubs should be putting in their drinks!

Thailand is world-famous for its lady boy clubs. Another evening at the touristy Nana Plaza, we visited for the full experience and saw some of the most beautiful lady-boys, or "kathoey," I have ever seen. The infamous Soi Cowboy is not far from there.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Yao Dress & the Hills of Northern Thailand

My friends Natalie, Ashvin and I recently a Yao village on Doi Wawee. 
This mountain in Northern Thailand is the origin of Wawee Coffee company though the people in fact grow tea, corn, vegetables and fruit trees among other plants. Our hostess thought it would be fun to dress us in traditional costume after we complimented her on her pants. Known as "kang keng" in Thai, they are embroidered by hand and completed over a period of months. Got a few laughs from the local people.
These clothes are not everyday wear but for special occasions like weddings. The headdresses are snug and light. The red wool collars and pants are heavy and very warm.

Ashvin wears a shirt with embroideries of abstract flowers like those found in the surrounding natural landscape. The buttons are small silver bells that make noise when he walks.
The phrase "people from high elevations" best describes communities like the Yao instead of the more commonly used term "hilltribe."