Posts published during April, 2010

Wat Dhammakaya, just north of Bangkok, is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world. Built in 1970, it is the epicenter of Dhammakaya Buddhism, a large, rapidly growing, and at times controversial sect. Architecturally, Wat Dhammakaya is a palace for the age of mass media.


The UFO-like Chedi (inner memorial hall)

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A.N. and I met a musician while walking around the Mo Chit neighborhood last week. Mo Chit is the last stop on the SkyTrain, right next to Thailand’s largest weekend market.

To play legally, street musicians in Bangkok must be licensed. The licenses restrict when and where one can play – unlike some cities, the subway is not at all fair game – but they also protect musicians from getting hassled by the cops or anyone else.

The fellow we met was blind – music is a common vocation here for people with disabilities. Like many people from the rural Northeast, he came to Bangkok because he was no longer able to make a living in the provinces.

The field recording above has two parts. First, a song, and then (around 4:00) a short conversation, translated within the audio. The piece he’s playing is Northeastern string music, and he’s accompanied here by recorded drums from a tape deck. You see the instrument, the Phin, pretty often on the street, but the double-necked version is rare. Thanks to B for help with translation.

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Zoning, which has so much to do with how places sound, is never an entirely formal process. Although cities usually do their best to centralize decisions about where people live and work, they have to contend with other, much smaller and more local political economies. When one hears something from an establishment that’s completely out of place, that establishment is often getting protection from someone whose main gig isn’t urban planning, to put it nicely. This happens a lot in Bangkok, and accounts for surprising – and special – aural aberrations.

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Save malls, Lumphini Park is the largest and most utilized public space in Bangkok. At all hours, the 150-acre Lumphini teems with performance and exercise programs that may involve anything from flags and matching uniforms to swords and tea, from high-octane aerobics jams to casual rounds of badminton between siblings. It is easy, actually, to find a quiet spot. But walk twenty feet and you might find yourself in the audible orbit of something completely different. Everyone, it seems, is busy honing their mind or body.

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Khlong Saen Saep, under Witthayu Road. image by author.

Snaking through Bangkok’s concrete tonnage are khlong, natural canals that feed into the Chao Phraya river. Many have been filled in to build roads, but there are still plenty within the city boundaries. They’re crucial for understanding Bangkok’s massive and sometimes inequitable 20th century spatial transformations.

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