Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Last day in the office

Weird feeling. Last commute in. Last latte at Starbucks (there are 72 in Bangkok so I don't think they'll miss me, although I must have spent a small fortune there). Wrap up work, close bank account, clear desk, send out farewell emails... Then Liz and the girls arrive for a small party, cake and a few words. In my speech I talk about my arrival just before the coup, how so much has changed in 4 years, great projects, holidays and the friendliness of the office. A & N manage to stay still through all of this. Doesn't feel real. Hugs for a few colleagues, chuck away the last few things, close down my computer and then, before I know it, we're leaving, down the stairs, through the doors and into a taxi. Was that it?

Monday, June 28, 2010


The fate of our goldfish, Nibbles and Scribbles, has been decided. It will be up to Jim & Kim's in 5B rather than down the toilet. Here they are swimming past a bas relief of Angkor Wat in our picture frame tank. We'll get another two in Beijing. We're in a somewhat easier position than my colleague, Alan, who's about to move to New Delhi. He has two enormous dogs. The moral for me is: expats and pets don't mix.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Germany 4 England 1

So, another early World Cup exit, inevitably against Germany, and it didn't even come to penalties. Actually, we played well enough, had most of the possession, pushed hard, had a clear goal disallowed (revenge for Hurst's second in '66?)... but Germany punished us with brilliant, ruthless counter-attacks. Would it have been any different had Lampard's goal been given? Who knows? But it wasn't, so that's it. Game over.

Consoled by continued enjoyment of David Goldblatt's The Ball is Round. We're in mid-20th century South America: fast-flowing, technically brilliant, passionate, attacking football. Argentina and Uruguay ruled the roost. In a radio broadcast in 1942 Rebelo Junior shouted (sang would be more correct) the first "Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!", but it was Ary Barrosa who made it his own and became Brazil's most famous commentator; he was totally partisan and used to trill his harmonica every time his beloved Flamengo scored. In the Colombian league in 1950 there were only six goalless draws. But it wasn't all beautiful: in 1968 all 22 players were sent off in a vicious Olaria versus America game. Who'll win this year's World Cup? My money's on a South American team, probably Argentina.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


This month I've struck up a correspondence with our new Head of Architecture, Design & Fashion Department in London, Vicky Richardson - until recently Editor of Blueprint. She's coming to Shanghai for the Expo next week. It will be an emotional trip as her mother was born there. Oh really, I tell her, I was there recently and amongst other things tracked down J G Ballard's childhood home (see 13 April post). That's funny, she replies, Ballard was my uncle.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Currying favour with MPs

To prove that I actually do some work, rather than gallivanting around Bangkok attending gallery openings, ballets, swimming galas and lunches at the Oriental Hotel, here's a not untypical exercise I carried out this afternoon in rather more mundane office surroundings...

Although the British Council is an independent organization, it receives a grant each year from the Foreign Office so the new round of public sector cuts affects us too. We're constantly trying to convince government that we're good value for money. Trouble is, many MPs have no idea who we are, what we do and what's the benefit to their constituency. So last year our CEO wrote to them all individually, detailing every single company, organization, university, school, artist etc on their patch who've benefitted from us. I saw an example of the letter he sent out last year and it was actually pretty impressive.

So that's what I've been doing today: talking with colleagues in ten countries and putting together a ton of information on the 200 UK-based artists, galleries, museums, consultants etc who we've helped 'get into' East Asia over the last year, including (importantly) all their postcodes. Next stage is for some poor soul in HQ to sort through all 13 regions, and not just arts but our work across education, science, climate change etc. Then the info goes into 650 individual letters plus a google-map so the MP can see at a glance the local spread. And then our CEO signs the letters. Best not to ask how long all this takes. Of course there was lots of other stuff, but enough already.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I is for...

Somewhat to my surprise I can fairly easily think of ten, although the quality may have taken a dip. Here they are in all their obscurity:

- Insides
- It’s Immaterial
- In The Nursery
- Irresistible Force
- Immersion
- Ken Ishii
- Tetsu Inoue
- Ryoji Ikeda
- Ilitch
- Ivy

Insides were a little-known early 90s ambient pop outfit who started life as Earwig (one album) before changing their name and releasing an album (Euphoria) and EP (Clear Skin) on 4AD. The latter is a 38-minute instrumental which apparently used to be played before they came on at gigs and is an essential piece of minimal Steve Reich-like electronica.

More electronica: three from Japan, each very different, Ishii good in a club, Inoue in a chill out room, and Ikeda in a gallery. (That's a photo of Ryoji: he lived very near us in Tokyo. You might expect him to be very cerebral & clinical but he's not at all like his music). And two more from UK: Mixmaster Morris’s Irresistible Force and Colin Newman & Malka Spiegel's Immersion.

Liverpool-based It’s Immaterial released an essential album in 1986 (Life’s Hard and Then You Die) followed by a disappointing second (Song) and then split. Ivy are a classic Indies band from New York, very ‘up’, very ‘charmante’ (the singer is French).

Ilitch was a French outfit from the late 70s/early 80s who released 2 edgy LPs (PeriodikMindTrouble and 10 Suicides) and a cassette (PTM Works). As is the way, they’ve been reappraised, re-released on CD and are now re-active. And finally, In The Nursery are a 'neo-classical/martial electronica' (thanks Wilkipedia) duo. Twins actually. They seem to have become specialists in soundtracks to otherwise silent movies, including Man With a Movie Camera - which has also been re-scored by at least two others, Michael Nyman and Cinematic Orchestra.

Also-rans: Idol Taxi (quirky Japanese breakbeat), Ken Ikeda, Isan, I Start Counting, Instrumental (chamber versions of chillout), Icicle Works, Inspiral Carpets, In Embrace, Incredible String Band, and at a pinch Chris Isaak (if only for Wicked Game). But not Iron Butterfly, Iron Maiden, INXS, Ice T or Billy Idol.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wong's Place

Last drink at Wong's, my local Thai bar, famous for its late opening hours (never before 11pm), huge collection of old music videos on VHS and the fact that you have to help yourselves to beers from a large fridge at the back. It's run by Sam, who set it up with one of his eleven siblings in the late 80s when the area was Bangkok's backpacker centre. The (in)famous Malaysia Hotel is just across the road where Tony & Maureen Wheeler wrote a lot of the first Lonely Planet book.

On arriving, there's a Falco (!) video playing which just about sums up Sam's collection: hit and miss. From an early 60s German TV special on rhythm & blues to Pink Floyd live in '94, you name it he's got it. We request a Top of the Pops compilation covering 1965-85 (Slade's Cum On Feel the Noize the undoubted highlight) while discussing the England v Slovenia match, which was rubbish, again, but at least they won. A few beers later we stumble out into the soi, my friends into taxis, while home for me is just 150m away. Where am I going to get convenience like that again?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Oriental

In a month of 'lasts', today was my last visit to the Oriental Hotel... for lunch, courtesy of close colleagues, Mallika, Dao, Ai and Laila. It regularly wins World's Best Hotel accolades, but its Normandie restaurant does a surprisingly good-value set-lunch. Amazing food aside, what I really like about the Oriental is its setting on the river, the gorgeously romantic lobby and its history.
It's the oldest hotel in Thailand (1876), was the first building to have a lift and early guests included Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and Graham Greene. Appropriately, the oldest part is now known as the Authors' Lounge - all white cane and fading photographs - which fronts on to a lovely garden. And in that, there's a big cage with two mina birds who occasionally caw "Sawatdi kaa" or "Good morning". Afternoon tea is a must-do. But perhaps the most impressive fact is that the General Manager, gentle giant Kurt Wachtveitl, has been running the place since 1967!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Haircut 100

Just had my last haircut in Thailand. Just round the corner from our home. Fifteen minutes in and out, number 4 on the sides, a bit off the top, zero chat, 100 baht (about 2 quid), done. I'm not a big one for chat at the barber's, although I can do footie if forced. When I lived in Brixton, I used to go to George's on Coldharbour Lane. He was a big Arsenal fan so that was that sorted. In Tokyo, I went to a little place near my office on Kagurazaka. We would always have the same polite conversation (in my very stilted nihongo) about the Japan team: "Nakata: sugoi jozu", Nakamura, Celtic, ii desu!". In our year back in London in 2005 I started going to a place in Covent Garden. Somewhere between a barber and a hairdresser. Always full, guys leafing through FHM magazines, lots of banter, bit pricey. I stopped going when, after handing over a 20 quid note, the most I've ever paid for a cut, the guy said "Next time you owe me a conversation"! Bloody cheek.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A gathering in the garden

This afternoon, and into the evening, we had a farewell party in the garden with all our good friends from Serenity Park. Some we've known for four years (Ikko & Shige), others for three (Xavier & Irena), some for two (Cathy & Guillaume, Kim & Jim) and still others for a year or less (Raphael & Loic, Deborah & Albert, Miriam...), but all of whom have become good friends.

While the children swam, we chatted over drinks and nibbles until it was dark. The World Cup was definitely off the agenda. All our home countries - England, France, Japan, Australia and USA - are in the tournament, and we're all struggling; France disintegrating actually. Only Japan has won a game so far. Still, there's more to life than football. We will miss everyone but already there's talk of visits to Beijing.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

England 0 Algeria 0

Got up in the middle of the night again to watch England play. Why do I bother?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Farewell to friends

This evening I said goodbye to a few arts contacts over dinner at The Face. Not the magazine, but an incongruously named Thai restaurant near Thonglor, one of my favourites. So, goodbye Paravi (aka Albert), curator extraordinaire and who annoyingly speaks four languages fluently (Thai, French, English and Chinese). Goodbye Pratarn, Director of Bangkok Design Festival. Goodbye Ruttikorn, toy-designer and winner of our International Young Design Entrepreneur Award ("The British Council has changed my life" is as good a quote as any). Goodbye Chatvichai, Acting Director of Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, veteran arts manager constantly battling the system. And goodbye Mongkon, zen-like Editor of art4d, Thailand's best design & architecture magazine, and who only revealed this evening that he's a big footie fan. (The other two, Pred & Mallika are colleagues). It's been a pleasure.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Record list

I took a day off work today to catalogue my record collection. Not because I'm a sad anorak-wearing documenter (though I fear I may be), but for insurance purposes. The packers have recommended I do so, just in case anything happens between Bangkok and Beijing. Actually, a batch of records went missing when we moved from London to here so there's reason in the madness. But madness is what it ended up being. Working fairlly solidly from 8am to 10pm with breaks for lunch, the girls and dinner, I only got up to H! OK, so I couldn't resist adding the label and year of release, but even so, I'm amazed it's taking so long.

Still, it was fun listening to stuff in the process, including records I've not heard in decades. Creme & Godley's Consequences for example. I bought it second hand, not at the time (1977), but out of curiousity several years ago, but don't think I got beyond side one. The 70s produced some amazingly preposterous follies, but this must surely beat all contenders. It started out as a way of promoting the Gizmo, a device they invented which fits onto a guitar and bows the strings. But slowly - very very very slowly - it turned into six sides of protracted nonsense, with an unfathomable 'plot' with Peter Cook narrating and Sarah Vaughan (!) singing. Finally, after 18 months, it was released with a lavish booklet in a black box... at the height of punk. It totally bombed. Amusingly, there's a website devoted to it here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Arts & conflict

This afternoon I attended a debate, initiated by the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, about how arts & culture might help in the process of national reconciliation. It was difficult to know where to start. The problems are principally political and I'm not sure how useful an exhibition, concert or literary competition, for example, might be in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps culture means something broader, like creating space for completely open dialogue in neutral venues with no hidden agendas. Also, one of the big problems is that Bangkok dominates all cultural life in Thailand. Supporting more regional festivals, modernizing local museums and galleries (paid for by the lottery) and identifying, funding and promoting certain cities as creative centres might be a start. Ultimately, the Thai problem seems to be a question of the haves and have nots: the elite in Bangkok have, but the vast majority in the north, the south, Isaan and other provinces have not. And that includes access to 'culture', a celebrated identity and opportunities to earn a living through creativity.

Monday, June 14, 2010

School swimming gala

What’s going on? That’s the third Proud Parent day in less than a fortnight! (following ballet show and parents evening). The school ran a swimming gala this morning for years 3,4,5 & 6. A won two of her races and came second in the other! So the swimming lessons have paid off. Of course, I wasn’t one of those dads who paces the side, enthusing his daughter on, putting her in a Jaked suit, swimming every stroke and disputing the result of the freestyle. It just didn't happen. Tempting, mind.

Here she is winning the breaststroke:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

H is for...

I'll keep to 10 again, but surprised at the range of others. H is indeed a rich letter.

- Heldon
- Harmonia
- Jon Hassell
- Human League
- Steve Hillage
- Haruomi Hosono
- He Said / Halo
- Heaven 17
- Hard Corps
- Michael Hoenig

Quite a few from the 70s again... Heldon (pictured right): the great overlooked French electronic band from 74-79. Harmonia: the perfect trio, and great to see them re-assessed, re-released, even re-formed. Hassell: one idea (processed trumpet) but consistently excellent and still going strong. Steve Hillage: amazingly varied career - hippy guitarist, early user of sequencers, pioneer of ambient (eg. Rainbow Dome Musik, 1979), in-demand producer (inc Simple Minds' classic New Gold Dream), and - as System 7 - a big influence on the electronica scene.
The 80s would have been a poorer place without Human League and Heaven 17 (pictured above, pre-split, in turn-of-the-decade bleaksville Sheffield). He Said: one of Graham 'Wire' Lewis's many alter egos (another is Halo).
This weekend I've been rediscovering Hard Corps, a mid-80s Brixton-based minimal electronic pop band with French chanteuse, not too dissimilar to Propaganda. They seemed to have a lot going for them - 3 excellent singles, arena support slots with The Cure and Depeche Mode, produced by Martin Rushent and Daniel Miller, and a major label in Polydor - so why didn't it happen for them? In an anglophone world, I think the titles of their singles - Je suis Passée, Respirer and Porte Bonheur. - might offer a clue.. Anyway, check out:!v=8dn9_NvG-5o&feature=related.
Along with Sakamoto, Hosono is probably the most influential musician on the Japanese scene, from the 70s right through to now. And Michael Hoenig qualifies if only for his exquisite Departure from the Northern Wasteland album '78.

A long list of also-rans... From the 70s: Jimi Hendrix (OK, he really should be in the Top 10 but I'll face the consequences), Hawkwind, Herbie Hancock (for Headhunters and Sextant and, a bit later, Rockit); George Harrison (his best period), Isaac Hayes (the brilliant Shaft), Peter Michael Hamel, Hatfield & the North, Henry Cow (in small doses), Roy Harper, even Steve Hackett (Voyage of the Acolyte). From the 80s: Robert Haigh (great Satie-esque piano releases before he went drum&bass as Omni Trio), Hula, Paul Haig, Housemartins, House of Love, Half Man Half Biscuit, Hothouse Flowers, Husker Du, Holger Hiller, Lucia Hwong... 90s: The Heart Throbs (one great single, Dream Time), and a lot of electronica: Howie B, David Holmes, Beaumont Hannant, Mick Harris, Heavenly Music Corporation, Higher Intelligence Agency... 00s: Hazard, Hexstatic, Hybrid, Hot Chip... Plus miscellaneous no-era artists like Huun-Huur-Tu (Mongolian throat singers), Charles Hayward (Quiet Sun, This Heat, solo), and Robyn Hitchcock. Oh, and I never 'got' Peter Hammill.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

And let the agony begin

England's opening game of the World Cup, against USA. As predicted, painful to watch. A goal in the first 5 mins augered well but it soon reverted to a lacklustre performance by overpaid celebrities. To be fair, USA played well and their equaliser - 'though a butterfingers disaster for Green - was not long in coming. And 1:1 was how it stayed. Looking on the bright side, I suppose they could have lost.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup KO

The World Cup kicked off today with a 1:1 draw between hosts South Africa and Mexico. Dull first half, lively second half, fair result. I'll be watching as much of the tournament as I can although a third of the games kick off at 1:30am including England's opener v USA.

The first World Cup I remember was Mexico 1970. Esso coins of the England players (which I still have), Bobby Moore and the jewels, that Banks save, Bonetti and those dodgy subsititutions in the quarters, the amazing Italy-West Germany 4:3 semi, and of course Pele and the fabulous Brazil team. Then there were the stickers for the '74 World Cup, Holland's 'total football' (whatever that meant), Cruyff, Zaire... all re-enacted in the playground. And so on.

Never thought I'd see the tournament staged in Africa. Amazing how far South Africa's come (if not the rest of the continent). I'm not that confident of England's chances and not really looking forward to their games: it's always an excruciating experience. Anyway, to coincide with it all, I'm reading what must surely be the definitive book on the game: David Goldblatt's The Ball is Round - a scholarly but very readable 978 pages of everything and everyone that has ever mattered in football. Brilliant.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bobby Raja's

My last visit to my tailor's. Four shirts to go with the suits, trousers and tux I've had made over the last four years. Bobby is an institution, Indian Sikh by culture, but born I think in Bangkok. He remembers everyone, has all the patter, offers the men a beer and the women a G&T while they wait. Gets the tape out, "Measurements still the same, sir", ready on Saturday. From there to school for parents evening. Glowing reports, beer and food provided, such a nice little school. The girls will miss it. And then to the cinema, first time together for about a year, to see Sex and the City 2. A bit silly, especially the Abu Dhabi excess, and a more different film to Katalin Varga I couldn't imagine. But all harmless fun.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

'British auteur filmmaker' shock

“Should I buy myself a one-bedroom flat in Bracknell or should I make a revenge film in Transylvania?” That’s the question Peter Strickland, a budding auteur filmmaker faced on receiving an inhertance a few years ago. Well of course he made the film, Katalin Varga, which I watched on DVD last night, a year after it was released in the cinemas. The rustic Transylvanian mountains & mists reminded me of Herzog’s ‘mittel-Europa’ films like Heart of Glass and Nosferatu – weird, intense, somewhat magical, yet the occasional intrusion of a mobile phone reminds us that it’s present day. It took him 18 days to film it (hard but rewarding) and, when the money ran out, 2 ½ years in post-production (frustrating & depressing). But finally it got picked up and won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Will Strickland become the next Greenaway or Jarman?

An interesting aside is the film’s soundtrack, by Steve Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) with friends Geoff Cox (film sales agent) and Clive Graham (Morphenogenesis). Not the oddest choice as it might at first seem. NWW music has become progressively less weird/abrasive and more ambient/filmic, and the soundtrack here (new stuff and older extracts) is actually quite subtle and sympathetic. It’s heartening to see this kind of music – avant garde & unknown – used in a feature film.

Coincidentally, I just received a box of recent NWW albums from Colin Potter who, before joining the ‘group’, mixed the Pump album. It will probably take me until the end of the year to listen to them but look forward to the re-acquaintance.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Today Liz and I joined the 21st Century. We bought iPhones (albeit second hand ones). We can now phone, skype, text & email. We can surf the net. We can listen to music. We can take half decent photos and then stroke, pinch and all but carress them as they glide across the screen. We can maintain a calendar and make notes. We can be on-line all the time and get lots and lots of ‘apps’ (we won’t). We can navigate the streets of Bangkok and Beijing using googlemaps. We can play games if we want to (we don’t). I can make posts to this blog while sitting in a wifi café in Luang Prabang. In short, we can do tons of stuff all on one slim, sleek, sublime little 21st century design icon…. Until it goes wrong, we lose them or can’t afford the monthly package.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sight & Sound

An enjoyable lunch hour reading the new issue of Sight & Sound, just about my favourite magazine these days. June issue's cover story is on bad cops. Lots of them around in the film world, but odd to have Werner Herzog and Michael Winterbottom held up as exponents of the genre. I saw Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (a convoluted title if ever there was one) a year ago at Bangkok International Film Festival. What's been the hold-up? Anyway, good film, particularly Cage's performance. But lots of other fine articles & reviews, intelligent editorials, nice simple design. Interestingly, the BFI has been publishing it since 1934 - the year the British Council was born.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ballet stars

Finally, after months of classes and a few days of rehearsals, the big weekend has arrived: A & N get to perform in La Fille Mal Gardee, presented by Rising Star Dance Studio at Bangkok's M Theatre. It's the oldest ballet story (1789) still performed today, a rather slight country romp but not without charm. It's directed by Fay Pansringarm, a New Yorker who's been living in Bangkok since 1987 and is Director of the studio. She's married to a Thai actor. The leads are played by adults - four Thai, one Japanese - but the 100 (!) other dancers are children, ranging in age from 4-18, and from 25 different countries. All in all, it's quite a production.

Anyway, A & N did really well. N was a 'flautist', A a 'spinner'. No nerves, nice smiles, some make-up ("yuk", N) and no screw-ups! And N was chosen to present flowers to one of the leads at curtain call. Proud parents.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Thai arts scene

Eyes right!

So, after 4 years as an arts manager here, what impressions has the Thai arts scene left on me? I'll need to preface this by saying that we're talking contemporary arts here, not the country's long & rich history of religious (essentially Buddhist) art, khon dance, likay (a kind of folk opera), traditional Thai architecture etc. At risk of over-generalising, my experience of the contemporary arts scene here has been one of disappointment. But let's take a look at each artform.

The Music scene is not terribly exciting. There are of course the traditional lukthung and morlam styles which are fun, especially live, but there's nothing really new being done with either, and modern western-style popular music is simply below-par derivative. The biggest pop star is Tata Young, the best-known rock star is Sek Loso and the coolest band are (still?) Modern Dog, although I'm probably a bit behind the times here. The experimental music scene is virtually non-existent; interestingly, the bit that there is centres around Peter 'Throbbing Gristle' Christopherson who's been based in Bangkok since 2005. Not many big-name western bands include Bangkok on their itineraries which is kind of surprising given the huge, captive ex-pat audience. Could be to do with the lack of experienced promoters or sponsors.

Contemporary dance and drama is just about limited to Patravadi Mejudhon and her excellent theatre (though its location isn't ideal), and Pichet Klunchun who pretty much single-handedly keeps contemporary dance alive. The Bangkok Dance & Music Festival is the one big, well-respected event of the year but focuses on international productions, has expensive tickets and correspondingly attracts a well-off audience.

Literature... Thais are not great readers of books, but then nor are many other nationalities: 80% of U.S. families didn't buy or read a book last year. I've not read much contemporary or classical Thai fiction in translation - Siburapha, Win Lyovarin, Tattawut Lapcharoensap - so am not a good judge, but I think it's fairly true to say that Thailand does not have a thriving literary scene. The publishing industry, however, is quite strong.

Things now start getting better...

The film industry is one of Thailand's creative strengths, the domestic market particularly. Historical epics (eg. The Legend of Suriyothai), horror/ghost stories (eg. Nang Nak), gay comedies (inc anything with Michael Shawanasai) and action films are all polished and professional, but haven't exported well, although Francis Ford Coppolla edited a version of Suriyothai for the US market. Interestingly, the films that have done well abroad, at least critically, are art-house: Apichatpong's Syndromes and a Century, Aditya's Wonderful Town, Anocha's Mundane History have all won recent awards... but personally I find most (certainly these) very slow and over-hyped. Bangkok International Film Festival started out glitzy but has been mired in corruption, while the World Film Festival of Bangkok does its best to present interesting East Asian features & shorts. I've worked with both but neither is particularly influential. Good place to shoot films though: The Beach, Soi Cowboy, Nicolas Cage's risible Bangkok Dangerous...

The design scene is strong. There are great graphic, product and fashion designers and I'm proud to say that the British Council helped kickstart Bangkok Design Festival. We've also been very involved with the excellent Thailand Creative & Design Centre, up there with London's Design Museum or V&A, Cooper-Hewitt, Vitra...The advertising industry is also very strong with Thai creatives regularly winning international awards.

And finally (?) there's visual arts. Thai artists are increasingly active on the world stage. Rirkrit Tiravanija was co-curator of the 50th Venice Biennale and divides his time between Bangkok, New York and Berlin; Thai-Indian Navin Rawanchaikul has famously used tuk tuks and taxis as mobile galleries; Manit Sriwanichpoom is well-known for his shopping trolley-pushing Pink Man. I particularly like Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, noted for reading poetry to corpses (a bit like Beuys's explaining art to a dead hare?) and I own a lovely abstract painting by Somboon Hormtientong. There are many small commercial galleries in Bangkok but major exhibition spaces are lacking. Even the long-awaited opening of Bangkok Art & Culture Centre has been a disappointment. Looks great (based around a Guggenheimesque spiral) but its management, funding and curation is a bit of a mess, caught between the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority who own it and a supposedly independent committee who run it. A national contemporary arts centre is planned but don't hold your breath.

I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from all this. Thailand is still a 'developing' country, most people have more pressing priorities, and certainly outside Bangkok the cultural infrastrure is lacking. There's censorship - especially in film. There's little state support for the arts other than traditional, conservative artforms, especially those focussed on heritage. Arts don't benefit from the Thai Lottery, for example. Having said that, Thailand is way ahead of all the other ASEAN countries - with the exception of Singapore - and things are constantly improving.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The administration of moving

I'd forgotten how much admin there is in moving. Recent tasks: Two packing companies assess our mountains of stuff. We will be over the limit. Continue to chuck out stuff. Ask UK insurers whether it's covered while on the high seas. How to get our winter clothes which have been sitting in a Wembley warehouse to Beijing. Ask upstairs whether they want our plants. Prepare list of local accounts we need to shut down. Diplomatic passports arrive today. Online medical clearance for all four of us. Check vaccination records. Fill out myriad forms for the girls' new school. Complete Child Benefit and Child Tax Status declaration form. Book flights. Enquire about temporary Beijing accommodation while we look for somewhere to live. Try to think of an excuse to avoid attending 2-day security briefing in London while there on holiday next month. Complete Next-of-Kin form. Start preparing change of address notices to banks, insurers, etc. And so it goes on... A month to go.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Red Shirts, Yellow Shirts... colours are an important part of Thai culture. Each day is colour-coded according to kings in Indian astrology, each of which has a hue. Monday is yellow after the moon god. The King was born on a Monday so many Thais, especially civil servants, wear yellow that day. When his birthday fell on a Monday a couple of years ago, even I wore a yellow shirt to work. Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is green, Thursday orange, Friday blue, Saturday violet and Sunday red. But Thailand is in any case awash with colour: fruit, taxis, flowers, desserts, fashion. Britain looks monochrome by comparison.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

G is for...

Lots of Gs, but let's try to limit it to a top 10:

- Global Communication
- Manuel Gottsching
- Peter Gabriel
- Philip Glass
- Bruce Gilbert
- Goldfrapp
- Gong
- Genesis
- Githead
- Gary Glitter

Global Communication (and their many alter egos inc Reload, Pulusha, Link etc) were for me the cream of the 90s electronica crowd. They only released one proper album, the warm, sumptuous 76:14, but it was epoch-defining. But actually they began with a totally radical remix of a Chapterhouse album (it doesn't matter which - it bears no relation) called Blood Music: Pentamerous Metamorphosis, also stunning.

Manuel Gottsching has already been listed under A for Ashra but he's occasionally released stuff under his own name, notably the much-hyped E2-E4. By chance, I heard a demo of it a couple of weeks after it was recorded in December 1981 while visiting Berlin with my friend Wolfgang, and gave it a 5 star review in Sounds when it was released to an indifferent audience in 1984. It was only when Italian production duo Sueno Latino turned it into a 'Balearic' hit in mainland Europe in 1989 that it started to garner real critical plaudits. Anyway, good for Manuel: he deserves it.

Peter Gabriel: OK, one can certainly justify his inclusion. But Genesis? Well this is for old time's sake, circa 1975-77 Lamb, Trick, Wuthering... when they were one of my favourite bands and I was lucky enough to see them a couple of times at their peak. I'm treating these silly-but-fun lists in the broad, longer term sense rather than the right now.

Philip Glass is a no-brainer, especially earlier stuff like Einstein on the Beach, Glassworks and Koyanisqaatsi, but also the more recent Low re-workings and Violin Concerto. Gong, yes, both the Daevid Allen and Pierre Moerlen eras. Goldfrapp qualify only on account of their fantastic, unique, debut Felt Mountain. Nothing since has ever matched it. Githead because they sound more Wire than Wire nowadays; and ex-Wire Bruce Gilbert for his experimentation. But Gary Glitter... surely a joke? Well yes and no. I have to say that Rock & Roll Parts 1 & 2 were brilliant and had a major effect on me.

And the rest: Godspeed You Black Emperor, Garbage, Galaxie 500, Martin Gore, Gang of Four, The Go-Betweens; Lisa Gerrard (on occasion); Jan Garbarek and Egberto Gismonti (although generally-speaking I'm not a big ECM fan); Gothic Voices; electronicas The Grid, Goldie, Gas, Gescom, Morgan Geist, The Gentle People, Robert Gorl and Groove Armada; Orlando Gough and Michael Gordon; proggers Greenslade (but not Gentle Giant); German acts GAM and Harald Grosskopf (but not Guru Guru or Gila); Frenchmen Patrick Gauthier and Serge Gainsbourg; Marvin Gaye, Ghostwriters, Michael Garrison, Grandmaster Flash. Oh, and Ruben Gonzalez of BVSC. But not Grateful Dead.