Nick Curry

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Anti-Thaksin rally in Bangkok

On the way back home today (well, back to the gym that is), I had the good fortune of happening upon an anti-Thaksin rally in front of the Royal Palace just as I was changing buses. I had wanted to assist to one of these last time I was here, but at the time the location was changing constantly, and to be quite frank I had assumed they had petered out.

Some background on these: Thaksin Shinawatra is the Prime Minister of Thailand, and comes from the richest family in Thailand. Around a year ago, Sondhi Limthongkul started criticising Thaksin on his daily TV show on public Channel 9, following which the show was axed. Sondhi then took his show on the road in protest, alleging that the Prime Minister had ordered television execs to boot him off TV. He started staging the show at Lumpini Park in central Bangkok, and has taken it around Thailand, culminating in a march on February 4th to submit a petition to oust the PM.

At first, most thought Sondhi’s criticisms were the result of personal antagonism resulting from some of the PM’s decisions going against Sondhi’s business interests, Sondhi being a bit of a mogul himself. However, the show quickly gathered momentum in Bangkok, with numbers purported to exceed the 100′000 mark turning up at Lumpini to assist to his show. Following an intervention by the King, the numbers attending had dwindled earlier this year, and the Feb 4th march was thought to be a face-saving “soft landing”, allowing Sondhi to make a final gesture without the embarassment of putting on a show to an inexistent audience. However, following Thaksin’s January 24th sale of Shin Corp and the ensuing slow-burning rage, numbers are on the up again and groups which had previously ignored Sondhi, such as school and university teachers, are now turning out to support him.

Tonight, the crow had turned out in force, but the overall feeling at the venue was calm. Although people obviously felt strongly about the cause they were supporting, decked out in yellow headbans and t-shirts and waving yellow and Thai national flags, what greatly surprised me compared to similar demonstrations I had seen in Paris or London was the peacefulness of the crowd. Everyone was sitting down and listening to the show, but there was not even a hint of violence, something I had never experienced in Europe. After walking around for a while I started chatting to one of the demonstrators/audience member, who told me he had driven over a couple of hours just to see the show. He was curious as to how much I knew of the reasons people had for demonstrating (I had been reading the papers for the past couple of months, so was reasonably well informed), and compared this protest to the recent ones in France. I couldn’t help but disagree - the two were for different reasons and were carried out in different ways, hopefully also with different results. As I wandered around the crowd, I noticed how diverse the audience members were - old, young, from all social classes, mothers with their children, couples, grandfathers, upper-middle class middle-aged couples, all waving yellow flags and cheering or laughing at the speaches. Nothing could have been more different than the desperate riots that rocked the French suburbs for a month or so late last year.

I didn’t stay long as I couldn’t make out the speeches - everything was, naturally, in Thai. But I did notice the TV cameras (Sondhi airs the show on his own satellite channel and spreads them on VCD) and also the free refreshments being given out, the sound and lighting systems, and though I agreed corruption should be stamped out I could not keep from wondering who was paying for all of this.

posted by Nick at 10:49 am  

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Luang Prabang

I arrived in Luang Prabang yesterday, taking the plane from Chiang Mai. I therefore skipped the Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai - Huay Xai (Laos) - Luang Prabang trip most backpackers do, the last part of which is normally travelled by boat. So, Luang Prabang is the first I see of Laos, and I must admit I am a little disappointed - the scenery around Luang Prabang is amazing, with the Mekong rever running by it and the lush green karst mountains surrounding it, and the city itself is a collection of mostly tradition wooden housing, but most of these have been converted to guesthouses. The town is almost entirely geared towards the tourist trade, the night market contains nothing but tourist fare (no food or other catering to locals, except a couple of stands selling Thai CDs). There are a lot of theravada monks in orange robes running around, which makes for great photos, but it’s hard to get a feel for a place which seems like it only exists for tourists.

So, the main thing to do here is see the sights (the beautiful Wat Xieng Thong and the surprisingly understated Royal Palace), eat baguettes and coffee, and shop - there is not much else to do (although it might be possible to illegally rent a moped and explore surrounding villages, will have to check that out). Might as well take advantage of what there is though- I’m planning to leave on Friday, making it three days here, which sounds like just about as much baguettes and coffee as I can eat…

posted by Nick at 11:41 am  

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Eating in Baisha and Lijiang

We had a couple of great meals in the past 2 days - it isn’t always obvious to eat well in touristy places, so we were pretty happy to find good food. The first was an excellent Tibetan restaurant just outside of the old town, where we had fried yak meat with cumin and some delicious fried green beans, as well as an industrial quantity of Tibetan dumplings and one of the tastiest beers I’ve had so far, the very light and smooth Lan Cang beer (brewed locally somewhere in Yunnan).

The next day we headed off to Baisha by bicycle, a small nearby village which we hoped might be less touristy. The village itself was pretty quite, and although it was lined with knick-knack shops, we had an excellent meal in a menu-less shack on the street - a delicious tomato-based dish with spring onions and scrambled egg, very simply cooked but brilliant thanks to the extraordinarily fresh and strong tomato. It came with an excellent mushroom dish, of a type of mushroom I hadn’t seen before, cooked with onions and ginger, and some rice noodles; probably the second-best meal so far after the Tibetan, but so simple.

In Baisha we also met the world-famous Dr Ho, who has appeared on BBC and the french TF1 as well as in numerous newspaper articles worldwide. We know this because he showed us the clippings - he accosted us on the street, and very kindly invited us in for tea. We explained that we had no money at that point (it had all gone on the deposit for the bicycles), but he insisted on having us in and told us a little about his life, which does seem quite extraordinary - he quit medical school due to ill-health, taught himself how to use herbs in order to heal himself, and has been practising ever since. Among his accomplishment are having cured several people of leukemia and cancer, sometimes for very little or no money. It would have been interesting to talk to him longer, as he seemed like an interesting character, but as Ross pointed out, he had other people to talk to, so we made our way…

posted by Nick at 8:14 am  

Sunday, November 6, 2005



Our hotel is great fun, a small traditional Naxi house in the middle of the old town by one of the many canals criss-crossing the city, with a small internal courtyard - all that extravagantly priced at 43 yens per night (around 3 pounds) including en-suite bathroom, so even cheaper than most of South America.

We had a quick walk around the old town, and climbed to the Looking to the Past Pavilion, which has a great view over the city. Among other attractions in the area are the Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and a number of small villages and temples surrounding the city. We plan on hiring a couple of bicycles and heading out…


posted by Nick at 4:02 am  

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Guangzhou: China’s answer to Hong Kong



posted by Nick at 3:33 am  

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Hong Kong: the city of bling-bling



posted by Nick at 3:18 am  

Thursday, November 3, 2005


A conversation between Ross and the waiter in one of the first restaurants we went to in “Hong Kong Island”:1 :

|Conversation according to Ross|Conversation according to the waiter|
|Waiter: hello|Waiter: hello|
|Waiter: Where are you from?||Waiter: What would you like to drink?|
|Ross: Spain|Ross:Sprite|
|(At this point, Nick gets back to the table)||

Ross got a Sprite to drink. And this is Hong Kong - what‘s it going to be like in China? This isn’t going to be easy…


posted by Nick at 1:25 am  

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Arriving in Hong Kong

Arriving in Hong Kong… Lights, neon, more lights, lots and lots of people.

Ross’ friend Kin came to pick us up from the airport, and took us out to dinner to a really tasty Thai place in Kowloon. We met his girlfriend Kimmee, and then went out for a drink in Soho on Hong Kong Island (Hong Kong is divided into four areas, the Island, Kowloon, the New Territories and the surrounding islands). By that time we were pretty exhausted, which was almost a shame as it was Halloween and the locals really do dress up…

posted by Nick at 2:18 am  

Monday, October 31, 2005

Unexpected stopover in Munich


So, we had a good night’s sleep, a German-style breakfast the next day (loads of food), and a day to spend in Munich - the land of sausages, beer and lederhosen. We didn’t actually see any of those (apart from the beer :) ), but we did get to spend a pleasant day walking around the city, spoilt by the weather, having snack in the English Park and seeing the Frauenskirche.


posted by Nick at 7:12 pm  

Saturday, October 29, 2005

London stopover

I spent 1.5 days in London, stopping over to pick Ross up on my way to China :) - in that time I had an unfeasible amount of things to do. I did manage to meet up with Onyee the day I arrived for a quick coffee, and it was great to catch up and hear the good news about her band Sunny Day Sets Fire (I’m their #1 fan, or at least #2 after Daniele). By the time I left her I was positively buzzing from the endorphin, adrenalin and coffee - I’d had almost no sleep on the plane, and had a couple of moments during the day where I must have nodded off without realising it and woken up to find, for instance, that someone had put breakfast on my tray (on the Milan-London flight).

My Dad popped over from Paris on his way to Newcastle the next day - we had lunch together, and it was also fantastic to catch up with him, I was pretty glad he found the time to stop over. By the time I had bought a couple of travel extras, and a couple of dinners with Ross later, and it was time to go again - and so off to Hong Kong…

posted by Nick at 1:59 pm  
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