Vivisection No. 5 – Yellow Fang – The Greatest

Seriously… T H I S is easily one of best Thai music, if not music in general, that I have heard in years, if not EVAR. There are three Thai women setting out to make a music that is so far unheard in Thailand. The kingdom is not very known as a breeding ground for girl bands; the only other girl band I know, Budokan, seems to be rather something recruited, a Grammy product that is. But the three-piece around Pang, the lead singer and guitarist, Pym, bassist and Praewa on drums are not just pioneering in being a genuine girl band, but also in being the first band with a distinct alt-rock sound. Their single Unreal has been out for a while, and in fact, the band has been active since 2007 but only now they have published their first full length album which just blows my mind.

When you listen to Yellow Fang you get taken back to the early nineties, the time where underground bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, the Pixies, Sonic Youth and the Throwing Muses shook up the established music scene. But they are also reminiscent to 60’s garage rock of the Animals or even the Beach Boys with their washing and echoeing guitar sound. Yellow Fang effortlessly combine what seems to be contradictory; they are relaxing yet energetic, positive yet melancholic. Their almost angelic vocal harmonies cover their songs like a dreamy blanket and you can’t help yourself imagining yourself at a beach,  not with sunshine, but under a grey sky, with the sea sleeping in a comforting turquoise green. The music video of the single “I don’t know” just captures this image ingeniously:

This song epitomizes the band’s sound in many ways. It is upbeat with its simple but super-rich bass sound and the guitar that hovers lightweight throughout the song. For many parts of the album I almost believe that Kristin Hersh’s wiry stratocaster sound found its Thai incarnation. I can’t help myself feeling totally

And the lyrics? Well, like the song title just says – I don’t know. And it’s either that I don’t know exactly what they are singing about, or that they don’t know what to sing about. Every song is about someone not knowing anything or something. But – who cares. What lacks in lyrical skills is more than compensated by the electrifying music delivered by just the three instruments.

I am confident that, if the girls stick together, they will even get this sorted. And by then, hopefully, even their live performance, which is not all too exciting, will get to the stage where it can appreciated.

Rating 5.5 out of 6

Available on iTunes (yay!!!)

The Vivisection no. 4: Abuse the Youth

This band is the fruit of some browsing and youtubing around and I know virtually nothing about this new band apart from that they are three-piece from Bangkok, forming of Mick Voranisa (Vocals, Guitar), Suppaphong Preunglumpoo (Bass) and Jureeporn Gamontummagul (Drums). They seem to be sometime around and seemed to have played outside Thailand, namely Malaysia and Singapore.

What I have noticed particularly from their live performances that they are pretty damn energtic, to a great part to the female drummer Jureeporn who really really kicks a**** out her drumkit as if it’s the last day on earth. Their rendition of the Stones’ “Paint it Black” is f*** smashing.

Looking at their own music though, the sound is still quite conventional and very reminiscent of Foo Fighters – driving rock sound with crisp guitar and varied drumbeats. The songs are still in the format that is so typical for Thai songs i.e. the three minutes something format, with the well known sets of chorus, verse, solo and the like.

But for for those of you not understanding Thai, this band might interest you as they have English songs in their repertoire!

In this song you can almost grasp the soul of David Grohl!!!

All in all, pleasing, slightly punk-influenced rock sound but not a revolution in Thai music.

Population matters …

It’s getting crowded in Asia…

You may remember your geography lessons where you have to remember the population figures, right? Total population, population density, primate cities and so on. All a bit abstract by themselves, dry and lifeless.
That is until we breathe life into these numbers. But it is already quite fun just to compare the figures. Have you seen the map where the size of the countries corresponds their population size? That shouldn’t be the matter for now as we know anyway that the world would be squeezed out by India and China. But if we put some figures of Southeast Asia in perspective, we would come to some amusing findings.

If we change the country sizes according to its population, we would get this.

The most populous country in Southeast Asia is Indonesia, and that uncontested. The follow-up Philippines are well behind. The most populous mainland southeast Asian country is Vietnam with 89 Million, which is a bit tragic, due to the comparatively small land area. Therefore they have to squeeze, with 280 persons per square kilometre. Sounds like a lot, but Germany has similar figures, 234 persons per square kilometres which is a bit less. To put it into perspective, Japan has got 349 inhabitants per square kilometres. With its 127 million inhabitants Japan has more people than Thailand and Burma together. Between the two, Thailand is the more populous with 65.5 million, bringing the country to the top twenty of the most populous countries in the world. That is more than the UK and France. Burma is an upcoming contender, but it is well behind (47.9 million). The remainder of the mainland southeast Asian countries are merely dwarfs. Malaysia has only about a third of Thailand’s population (29.5 million), and Cambodia has just some millions more (14.4) than Bangkok alone. Even taking into account that almost two millions have been killed under the Pol Pot regime, the Khmer are dwarfed against their former subjects. And Laos is left in the margin with its mere six and half million. So in theory, all Laotians would fit into London. But that is still more than New Zealand.
I acknowledge that it is extremely difficult to pinpoint population figures to ethnic groups as the data available becomes scarce and often unreliable, as ethnicity is often not defined in censuses. The figures are therefore mostly estimates. For Thailand, for instance, the ethnic T(h)ai comprise about 75% of the country’s population. That would be 52.1 million. In Burma, the Tai-speaking Shan are estimated at about 6 million. For Laos, 60% of the population is said to belong to the Lao Loum which is defined as the valley-dwelling ethnic Lao, who are again a Tai-language speaking group. In total numbers it would be 3.9 million. In Vietnam, the main Tai-speaking groups are the Tay, the Thai, the Nung and the Giay. Their population figures break up as following:
– Tay: 1.7 million
– Thai (ie. the Thai Dam, Thai Khao and the likes): 1.7% of the population, ie. 1.5 million
– Nung: 979.000
– Giay: 50.000

As you can see, we are already reaching beyond those groups that are Tai in the narrow sense, but looking at the bigger linguistic group. Therefore we now add those Tai-Kadai speakers in China. By doing this we are now not referring to an ethnic groups but to a linguistic one, like we would do with the Turkic-Altaic groups of western Asia. So, as for China, the Zhuang comprise 18 million people and are the largest ethnic minority in China. There are also Tai-speaking groups in India, but their numbers are comparatively insignificant. I would not take the Ahom people into consideration either, due to following arguments. 1) They are actually not Tai speakers anymore, b) If I include them, then I would follow the genetic-biological argumentation which is even more problematic.
Based on this figures, I sum up the number of Tai-Kadai as 84 million. That would be still less than the whole population of Vietnam, but more than the ethnic Vietnamese. The Zhuang alone are so numerous, they exceed comfortably the number of inhabitants of Bangkok or the whole population of Cambodia. Or, in other words, the Zhuang are four times as numerous as the ethnic Lao. The Shan, on the other hand, almost make up the whole population of Laos. The ethnic Burman are said to make up 66% of Burma’s population which would mean in numbers that there are just 31.2 millions of them. Together with the Tibetan languages (8 million speakers) they make the 40 million Tibeto-Burman speakers, a remarkably low number considering the vast area they are covering.

When we compare the whole region with the rest of the world, what does this mean? For this purpose I would like to include the insular part of Southeast Asia again. The whole region has got a population of 597 million. That is more than two times of the population of West Asia. Indonesia alone has got as many people as all the population of West Asia together. Southeast Asia has more population than the USA and Canada combined (346M) and more than the whole of Southern America (396M). It is not far behind the whole of Europe (739M).

What do we conclude? Southeast Asia may be a still developing region, but definitely not a region to be neglected. With so many people, Southeast Asia bears opportunities but also risks. And that’s why this region is so exciting!

Sources: Wikipedia/

(Side note: In the long run, the Asia will be outgrown by Africa. That’s why the Chinese are investing heavily there. Very far-sighted!)

It’s the Time of the Year again…

… where millions join the Christians to celebrate the solstice-worship-turned-biggest-birthdayparty-on-earth, and be it just for the sake of marketing or just the appeal of it. Coming from Germany, I remember the annual moaning about how stressful this time of the year always is. The hunt for the right present and the preparation of the celebration lets many outright condemn the “celebration of love” (that’s how the Germans call Christmas).
But that is probably just another German pastime as they need something to moan about. In my eight years in Britain I have felt much less a “Christmas-stress” (again, a German term). My entry today is not about you but dedicated to all the end-of-the-year-grumpy out there, to remind them how lucky they are to have this winter party and that there are many out there who live in cultures that just don’t have that.

First of all, I would like to thank the medieval clerics for their ingenious idea to date the event of Jesus’ birth on the time of the winter solstice. The northern world turns dark and cold, the animals put on extra fur and the humans prefer to remain in their poorly lit dwellings. That leads to the use of candles, and with candle lights comes the cosiness. Then there is (ideally) snow. And there is the pine tree. Christmas is even that special that even special meals are dedicated to it. And let us be honest, not many holidays on this planet create such an anticipation long before the fest itself. In Germany you have the nice tradition of lighting a candle on each of the four last Sundays before Christmas, accumulating to four candles at the last Sunday. Even Easter, the other big event of the Christianity, while trying hard, is not coming as close to Jesus Christ’s birthday.

So, now to all the nagging, oh-so-stressed fellas: Are you aware how life would be without Christmas? You would have to work all the way through the solstice, the winter’s grey, no lighting in the cities, no sweet treats. Would you bear it?

In Southeast Asia you don’t have all this, obviously. Well, you don’t have to face the winter’s misery as you would do in the northern hemisphere. The daylight changes here are almost unnoticeable, the vegetation change is defined by precipitation rather than by temperature. Ah, well, it gets cooler, but you rather feel it only when you are in the hills. So Christmas rather feels out of place and weirdly unseasonal in this region. Keep in mind that I don’t talk about religion here. The fact that there are Christian communities in Southeast Asia does not change this. That is, by the way, much more extremely so in the Southern Hemisphere like Australia or New Zealand. Over there Christmas has become a grotesque caricature of itself. It can’t be weirder having your Christmas dinner on the beach in shorts with the sun going down late. But still, the antipodes count themselves lucky to have Christmas with all its side effects.

What about other cultures? The poor Koreans and Japanese don’t have equivalents to brighten up their cold and dark season. In this sense, even if it’s purely commercial, the western festive season must be a welcomed contribution. But every culture should have their own major festive season where the family comes together and where the atmosphere is comparable to that of Christmas. Ramadan among the Muslims is some kind of Christmas in its way, mainly because it is celebrated in the families and in the evenings. And the Hindu have Diwali, albeit a bit more action, just like new year, but nevertheless somewhat intimate in family settings.

And in Southeast Asia? The biggest fest of all is the Buddhist new year, Songkran in Thailand, Thingyan in Burma, Pii Mai Lao in Laos and Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia. But this is the total opposite to Christmas. Extrovert, outgoing, loud and on the street. The family plays a minor role compared to the whole community, and instead of light it’s water. No candles, no festive food. Not to mention that it takes place at a time of the year where it is the hottest. Any atmosphere gets scorched away under the daylight.

No cosiness in all of Southeast Asia. All of Southeast Asia? No! A “small” ethnic community is offering resistance to the lack of atmosphere and candle light. Notably the Shan/ Tai Yai in Maehongson province, northwest Thailand, are celebrating something unique in the whole region which comes fairly close to the Christmas. It is the celebration of the end of the buddhist lent, and the Shan believe that at this time Buddha will descend from the heavens to be among the humans and animals. To welcome him they build shrines made of bamboo, decorated flowers, garlands and candles. At this shrine they offer fruits, flowers and candle lights. These shrines are then placed in front of the house as a gesture to welcome Lord Buddha. When these shrines are illuminated through the night they provide with this homely, welcoming atmosphere, not unlike the christmas tree. We finally have found it!


Apart from the private shrines the communities build their communal Jong para which they then present in a colourful procession through the town of Maehongson. These processions are held after sundown which means that the town of Maehongson is illuminated in a colourful atmospheric way otherwise only Christmas can do. For once the light of the street lamps are replaced by the flickering of candles – truly magical.

I don’t have the time and resources here to go deeper into the fascinating tradition of Jong Para. But visit Maehongson in October at the end of the Buddhist lent and witness the festive magic seen nowhere else in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

The Goldenpeninsula Europe Christmastime explorer: Riga, Latvia

Goldenpeninsula. In the name of exploring the tracks less beaten I decided to got to the birthplace of the Christmas tree. The Baltic states always have fed my curiosity, as not much is told them in the books nor in the news. When I was a teenager I saw the Baltic countries on the European map and wondered how they speak and how their culture look like. Having witnessed the iron curtain in the eighties the cultural dichotomy has always been the west European on one side and the Slavonic on the other (well, with the Hungarians as the caught-in-between). But the Baltics? Having seen them under Teutonic order over centuries I thought that something German has been left upon them. Only in the age of the internet and Wikipedia I finally have come to know about their language and their history. When I made my choice about which of the three countries to visit there was no hesitation thatI went for Latvia, as the filling of the sandwich. Lithuania wasn’t really an option as it lies to close to Poland and Belarus, the Slavonic heartland, and Estonia is like a lesser cousin to the Finns, hence not a “Baltic priority”.
The only upsetting fact is that the Latvians are making up only 60% of the population and are mostly outside Riga. Even more upsetting is that of the rest 29% are Russian, living mostly in cities like Riga. Should I end up spending my trip in miniature Russia?
With this worry I got to Luton airport and had big ears on. I had tried to train my ears to the sound of the Latvian language; but as different these two languages are, just by the sound it is not easy to tell one from the other, ie. if you don’t have the words by which you can identify the language. Bot Latvian and Russian are heavy on the consonants, both have hissing sounds and the ‘nj’ sound (like the Spanish ‘n’ with tilde). So I had to spot anchor words that I know in order to tell whether it was Latvian or Russian. “Da” and “njet” is the yes and no in Russian, while the Latvians have the German-like “Ja” and “Ne”. But fact is that the Baltic languages are closer related to the Slavonic languages than to the other Indo-European languages.
Different or not, I still felt quite lost among all the pale and grumpy-looking blokes. No wonder as being the only Asian person in the crowd…

This was my first time at Luton Airport and I don’t really like it. The facilities are not appealing and rather functional. This became particularly apparent at the gate, where we had to walk downstairs onto the ground level and walk over to the aircraft. The whole area looked rather like a gym than a departure gate. The fact that we had to walk over to the plane was really a namesake of a budget airline.

On a side note, with my departure I would leave the last cold wave in southern England for the time being:

With the plane so packed I rather decided to just fall asleep. As I was sitting on the aisle side though, my head tended to bend over towards the aisle. In my slumber I noticed that people moved up and down the aisle all the time and I had to pull my head back – I even dreamt that my head was about to be torn away by a passer-by!

The first thing I was on about at the landing was the snow. Yes! There it was! The snow! I was anxious that I might find just a fine dusting, but I was not disappointed. Piles of snow dotted the runway and icicles hanging from every eave. And yes, I felt the cold. The bonnet was on quickly and the gloves a good investment.

The Riga international airport is a tiny thing by every standard. The baggage reclaim was so close to the exit, one almost could feel the wind coming in everytime the door opened. Once outside I decided not to take a taxi. I consider it to risky in a foreign country to be alone with a driver in a car. Thus taking the bus felt much safer. And Riga is quite small scale so it did not feel tedious either. Two British girls with whom I was on the same plane thought similar. Even though we arrived late, the bus was filling up quickly with people of all age. It does not seem to be late for the locals. Obviously they were heading for the city centre. However, somehow these stupid tourists failed to get off at the same spot like the locals do and remain the last when the bus went on… to final stop, which was in a dark, semi-industrial area. I pressed some information from the driver who just could speak some broken English about where we were. I got out and started to walk the way back. The two on their part did not have any clue. They did not suspect anything. As they told me they wanted to get to the Radisson Blu (not speaking for their taste) which was in the commercial centre of the city. I reckoned that they had the same track like me, but when I stopped to get some orientation on the map, the girls just turned corner. They did not have any idea where they were heading to and seemed to be more occupied with themselves than the the place they were in. I marched ahead and what I have noticed that even when I was looking around to get some orientation, nobody offered any help. One can interpret this either as being unhelpful or just as shy. But finally I reached the old town which was just magnificent in the light of the street lamps. Small narrow lanes with well preserved houses. And in every street were small restaurants, bars or guesthouses, all very homely and inviting. And loads of Russian(s). So much that I was not sure about any Latvian among it. Despite the late hour there were still lots of people around; for such a small city the nightlife was remarkable.

The cosy Riga alleyways at night

The cosy Riga alleyways at night

But I did not really fit in with me carrying my backpack. So despite being desperately hungry I preferred to get to the hotel straight away – which was not easy in the different alleyways. Often I had to look for the streetsigns and got lost a few times before finally reaching Ekeskonvents Hotel.
I have chosen this cosy historic hotel in the middle of the old town centre from Lonely Planet and was enchanted by the first sight.
The building has foundations dating back to 1435 and has retained much of his historic character. This was felt from the very step inside: the front door was still a heavy wooden door with chunky iron handles. Instead of getting lost in a huge lobby one literally drops almost onto the desk of the exceptionally friendly staff. Her desk, a waiting bench, some cupboards and lockers, that’s all that fits into the reception area. A rustic staircase leads upstairs, passing reading corners set into the old walls. It just can’t get cosier than that.
The time difference between Latvia and UK is two hours, so I was not quite ready for sleep yet. The room itself was so inviting, even it was simple and having just the basic amenities: a small wardrobe, a bed with night-tables, a chair and, well, a TV (considered as basic these days). The most interesting part was actually the bathroom which was behind a kind of wardrobe. Simple but with a huge effect.

Day one

This day was dedicated to the old city. But on purpose I made no particular list of what I wanted to see; I rather wandered around and had a rather rough idea about the route. Contrary to the night, the city (the centre at least) seemed very tranquil, almost like a Sunday. I went to the main shopping mall in the old city to buy some necessities that I had forgotten at home and found the main supermarket being quieter than the local Tesco at home. What I have noticed is that contrary to the UK, the people in shops are generally leaving you unbothered. That was even the case in the main tourist information centre. But when it comes to beggars there are no cultural differences. And be it in broken English. First he tried to talk to me in Russian (he might think I’m from Siberia), but with no success. I gave him one Lats (the local currency) which was a ripoff for someone from the UK like me. By the end of the day it was more than a Pound!
For having daytime temperatures at about -4deg celsius I wasn’t freezing; however, filming was a torture. In seconds the fingers would start freezing.

View on the Riga city council

View on the Riga city council

The best to get a rough idea about the place I am visiting is to visit a museum about the national history. A bit of a shame that the national history museum was rather a provincial museum which has turned a bit dusty. The description was mostly in Latvian, even there was a summary for each room in most of the important languages including French and German. Only a few visitors lost their way here; the auntie at the cashier was quite grumpy – hmmm well, I had to let it out somehow…
Cold weather makes terribly hungry. So I was more than ready to sample the local food which is said to be quite heavy on meat. Lucky for me, the cavern next to the museum which was by the way in the castle which also functions as a presidential palace (quite multifunctional, such a palace), turns out to be a recommended place when it comes to local food. The name was a bit odd, Vecmeita ar kaki means “The spinster and her cat”, but pubnames in England are equally weird…. The lunchtime menu was restricted; they had only one meal and only different side dishes to choose from. The dish on the menu was a huge pork chop with a creamy sauce, vegetables… Not a culinary revelation, but quite enjoyable and really filling! The liquid to rinse it down was what they called “malt drink” on the menu; a strange brown carbonated drink that tasted a bit like a herbal coke mixed with Caribbean malt. Actually not too bad… Good enough to have two glasses of it.
Filled up, I was ready for another walk, during which I strolled around the old town with no particular destination. I was not on the hunt for attractions anyway, rather I was just soaking up the flair and the vibe of the historic city as well as enjoying the snow. But the flattening batteries forced me to retreat to the hotel which was not unwelcomed as I had a few postcards to write. And I have to admit that after several hours out in the cold I really appreciated being in a heated room.
With the postcards written (but without the camera as the batteries were not fully charged yet) I stepped outside again to pursue one of the main reason I was in Latvia: the Christmas spirit. Lest we forget: Latvia is being said to be the birthplace of the christmas tree. And the verdict was: pleasantly free of Americanised glitter as often seen in the UK, far less commercialised, but far less impressive, especially if you know the German Christmas markets. Yes there were Christmas markets, but the grumpy Russian mamushkas in the different stalls did not make the market particularly inviting. Don’t get me wrong; the main christmas market was nice; but it did not live up to what you know from German christmas markets (which are hard to beat anyway).

The Riga Christmas market

The Riga Christmas market

I wanted to have my dinner at Lido which offers Latvian cuisine but the lovely smell from one grill stall caught me first: sausages and sauerkraut. Again, a heavy treat and very hearty. What I also tried was egg nog which is quite an acquired taste and knocked me off a bit….

The hearty Christmas meal. Black sausage, sauerkraut, potato wedges - and the notorious egg nog

The hearty Christmas meal. Black sausage, sauerkraut, potato wedges – and the notorious egg nog

The mother of all Christmas trees...

The mother of all Christmas trees…

Christmas markets here are also German exports

Christmas markets here are also German exports

Look how busy it was even after 10 PM!

Look how busy it was even after 10 PM!

I’m not a nightlife guy and even the first time Riga would not turn me into one, so I returned once more to the hotel once I exhausted the Christmas market. I wanted to save the energy for the next day, so preferred to chill out for the rest of the evening.
But before that I indulged into the (mini-)shopping spree in the main supermarket (whose name I have totally forgotten) where I found out that the Latvians have strange grey bread and a passion for caraway (which I hate).
TV was provided in the room, but the oddest thing was that there was not a single Latvian channel on it! Instead one is left with all the the major news channels of BBC, CNN and the like plus the full range of Polish, Russian and even German TV! Sad for someone curious about local media like me…

Day 2

The day before I did not mention the breakfast buffet that was included. Well, why should I actually mention it when there is hardly anything memorable about it?
If yesterday was for the old Riga, then today we jumped all the way into the twentieth century. Riga has its reputation for being the capital of art nouveau of Europe (hence of the world) and that is something I could not miss. Before that I had suddenly become friend with a dog of one of the staff which was a bit of a surprise as the night before it had been barking at me ferociously.
Time to hit the cold again. And today was much less pleasant than the day before; the wind had picked up, blowing the snow down from the roofs, giving the impression as if it snowed again. But first, I went to recapture the freedom monument again. The monument was unveiled in 1935 and honours the soldiers killed in the Latvian War of Independence.

And another architectural delight (more a personal one) caught my attention. A Neo-Byzantine Russian-Orthodox church called Nativity Cathedral. A) I always have marvelled about Romance and Byzantine style architecture and I felt lucky to come across one in real life. B) I have never come across an Orthodox church. So I just could not miss the opportunity to see it from the inside. Built between 1876 and 1883 by the Russian architect Nicolai Chagin it represented the architecture of the dominating power of tsarist Russia. Reflecting Latvia itself it has been a subject of dispute over the last century; with the Germans converting it into a Lutheran church, then back to Orthodox again before the socialist Soviet Union turned it into a somewhat secular function as a planetarium (well the domes were there). Now finally, it serves it original purpose as an Orthodox church for the Russians in Riga.

The Nativity Cathedral in Riga

The Nativity Cathedral in Riga

A step inside this impressive church was like a journey into another world to me. Icons and beautiful medieval style frescoes looking down from the ceiling. In a corner the priest was reciting verses, like a sung sermon, and worshippers praying, crossing themselves, bowing, kneeling down. A quite magical atmosphere.
Back to the secular architecture. The main areas where the best examples of art nouveau can be seen are in the Elizabetae Iela and Alberta Iela. Even I am not a real fan of all the mythic creatures and scary faces on the facades I have to admit that this style of architecture does not fail to spread an enigmatic feel. I wanted to find out more in a museum dedicated to this architectural style. Inside however, I got the wrong way into a totally different museum. It was a museum about a Latvian artist of that time whose name I have totally forgotten. The guy at the entrance tried his utmost to take me into the museum and to take care of me. That guy was actually a young artist who had his own work exhibited in one of the rooms, but just as a part of another exhibition where a bunch of middle aged women were making planning. It seemed to me that the young artist just have been a wall out of empathy because i just could not see any relationship between his works and the main exhibition at all. His photographs just contained him and his girlfriend naked which I did not find very artistic… Putting them together with the landscape paintings seemed a bit overstretched… I pitied a bit that bloke as there wasn’t anyone visiting the museum and he even made the effort of opening the window so that I can make shots from the art nouveau building on the opposite side.
But I was glad to get out of there and to be where I actually wanted to be: the museum of art nouveau. Well, it was less a museum about art nouveau as an art or architectural form which is kind of disappointing, rather it was a local museum about life at the turn to the 20th century. Which was not bad. Funny was that all visitors had to walk in oversized slippers which was put over the shoes in order to protect the wooden floor. All staff were dressed in period costumes of that time so it was like travelling in a time machine. Ah, by the way, what I have noticed is that all the museums I have visited have their entrances inside, just like apartments. The art nouveau museum was just as big as the apartment that particular family lived in. The most interesting part, what else could it be, was the kitchen. Fire was made in the stove and I learned that this apartment had, unusual for that time a central heating. Visitors are even given an opportunity to decorate biscuits.
A rather homely museum experience.
Then it was time for lunch. And after the spare version and the distraction the day before I wanted to do it right. So I went to “Lido”, a chain of food plus recreation rooms with a distinct Latvian theme. Must be authentic as it was mainly directed to Latvian people anyway who seem to really like the place as it was pretty full. The waitresses wore traditional dresses and everything was pretty rustic, wooden and dark. Fortunately, it was not tacky like traditional features in Germany. The food was served as a buffet and was really hearty – but very good. The plates were all earthenware – very rustic.
As the final endeavour I wanted to go up the St. Peter Church to get the bird’s eye on the city. But the weather just got worse. Nobody queued up for view and I almost thought that the tower was closed. And I was the only one entering the lift with the the grumpy attendant (understandable, it’s a dull job!). I looked so grumpy and unwelcoming I feared that he would leave me on the tower. Which would be my death as it was the most challenging place I have been for ages. The icy gust went right through my bones and was so strong that I feared it would knock my tripod over. The lift went down and would be back again in fifteen minutes. Being up there I was deadly sure I would not endure any longer than that. Apart from that it’s approaching departure that started to worry me.
So I got back to the hotel for the last time to pick up my luggage before wading past the black cat (strange name for the probably most beautiful building in Riga) to the bus stop. At the airport awaited my a rather unpleasant ending to this wonderful short city-break: Because I did not confirmed my return flight to the UK, I had to pay a very hefty fee of 17 Lats which was a sort of nasty.
Verdict: Riga is a cute little city and really enjoyable. It may not boost the top attractions, but it is atmospheric. I was glad that I have chosen it for my winter city break. I’ve never been to Eastern Europe (apart from Hungary) before, so this trip also opened up a door to new destinations for me. Now I’m looking forward to more Eastern European breakaways!

For all those loving moving pictures, please check this out:


Ayutthaya – Back on world stage in 2020?

Bangkok has not been the capital of Thailand ever since. Before Bangkok (if we ignore the interim capital of Thonburi) it was Ayutthaya that was the centre and the glory of the kingdom. With the exception of the Burmese occupation in 1569, the city lasted for over 400 years (yes! Fourhundred!) before again the Burmese razed it to the ground in 1767. Bangkok tried to copy the glory of its predecessor, but never has matched it. The visitors from Portugal, Netherlands, France and England described Ayuttha as a city with splendour that compared to contemporary Paris. Now, the ruins can only give an idea of the grandeur that the city once had.

Rebuilding cities is not a Southeast Asian thing. Instead, kings tend to move their capitals, especially after a catastrophic event. So is the case with Ayutthaya. The actual city area, however, is not actually abandoned, but a new city of the same name is built nearby. That is the case with Sukhothai as well. However, these new cities are faceless satellites which do the historic sites rather shame than honour. Luckily enough, both Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, have been designated World Heritage sites, and hence allowing funds necessary to preserve these oh-so-significant historic sites to the future generations.

But that again would just mean having mere well-maintained open-air museums, mainly serving tourists, while the true legacy of those ancient capitals remain in the shadows, totally removed from the former significance their cities.

And then comes along the bold idea from the then-prime minister Abhisit Vejajiva to apply for the World Expo to take place in Ayutthaya. The city beats its rivals Chiang Mai (the true ‘eternal’ Thai city) and Chonburi (hae?!?) by numerous of advantages, be it its proximity to Bangkok, or the fact that it is a major trade and industry centre. For me, I always thought of Ayutthaya as a rather mediocre Thai town, just a shadow of its former self – until I have heard of this fact.

If the former capital gets selected it will without doubt not just receive a boost for the local economy, but its role within the country will also be redefined. Will it re-awake from its beauty sleep? Will it re-appear on the world stage? The prospect seems to be immensely attractive. I wish that Ayutthaya will regain some of its former splendour, cosmopolitan-ness and fame.

At least then the Thai people can tell to the Burmese: “You have sacked and burned down Ayutthaya, carried away all its gold and treasures, but the Thai spirit you never can destroy”.

Aung San Suu Kyi in Thailand!!!

Another event took place today of which I almost thought I would not see in my lifetime. But in these times of change I can’t be happier to see Aung San Suu Kyi travelling abroad, the first time in 24 years, and the first time in Thailand as an important figure.


Thailand, this is the person you need to talk to…

Her plan is mainly to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia, but any serious Thai politician (or any significant public figure) should meet her to send out a sign of support for her and for Burma, ahead of all Prime Minister Yingluck who should not just focus on economic issues. It is not just about economy, but also about democracy and human rights, but I don’t think she’s got it straight yet.

But more importantly, her visit carries the hope of the thousands of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand and the refugees in camps along the border that she can bring their situation into attention and give them a voice, either vis-a-vis the Thai authorities or back home. And not the least the democratic opposition in exile gains a big boost from her visit.

Another week of excitement…