Monday, June 27, 2011

The Stranger in Bangkok's personal take on Thailand's stunning election posters

The Stranger in Bangkok is BACK.

Fresh from my Greek Odyssey, I am ready for an exceedingly exciting next few months. Thailand's election is taking place on 3rd July, and I cannot see a better way to re-start the Stranger in Bangkok engine by writing about it. Apologies to my Thai readers, this will be ANOTHER post on the election posters, but well, yeah, it is, so bear with me.

Singapore's election just ended. As much hype as it generated, the supposedly "most exciting" election ever ended off with the ruling party winning 93% of the seats in Parliament, their lowest ever total, so much for most exciting....

As for the one in Thailand, I do not know enough about previous elections to conclude whether this is the "most exciting", but it sure is extremely amusing for an on-looker like me.

Quoting directly from an article from the award-winning newspaper Bangkok Post, "there's a coup leader who now fancies being part of an elected parliament...... then there are nephews, nieces, brothers-in-law and little sisters of banned politicians.... party-list candidates who are there simply for immunity from felonies, including the one who routinely bunked parliament to instruct protestors on arson..." Wow wee, that's a good start.

Another side-story that has been developing is definitely the range of posters produced by the countless number of political parties. Through the last few weeks, these huge placards have been placed and replaced on every position imaginable, with each one placed barely metres apart. Those belonging to the 2 major parties (Ber Nueng and Ber Sip) are predictably unspectacular:

Handsome Prime Minister supporting his party candidate
As controversial as her participation may seem, few can deny that the "little sister's" pretty smile has temporarily brightened up the streets of Thailand

However, one candidate from party number 5 has really caught my eye. In fact, I couldn't quite believe it when I first caught a glimpse of this election poster.

Wait, is that really a poster of a party leader? Let me take a closer look.

Yes it is, he is doing the headache pose
This man is an intriguing character. His name is Chuvit Kamolvisit (literally pronounced as "come on visit") and aside of his periodic emergence as a political figure every few years, he is more notoriously known as the former king of sleazy massage parlours, and he once famously told the media that he did not know what the customers and ladies were doing in the rooms. For a man who used to pay millions to police officers to keep his business running, it's weird that his election manifesto reads "Chuvit against corruption". That said, he still leaves a lasting impression as the first politician I know who uses negative facial expressions to leave an impact.
Politics needs to change, just like babies' diapers, hilarious isn't it

His only smiling pose is with a dog, who is depicted to be even more honest than a politician

Since I returned to Bangkok last week, I noticed another group of posters which are extremely innovative as well.

Say "NO" to animals
This series of posters discourages people from voting for politicians who are vicious/cunning/dangerous like animals. I have to admit that the pictures are impressively well-done, with my favourite being Mr Monkey, who looks smart in his suit and holds a huge yummy-looking banana. I would vote for him if I could!

No one can accurately predict what will happen on the 3rd of July, and the consequences that follow after that are unthinkable as well. Hopefully, Thailand will not fall back into a state of unrest and turmoil, as no one here wishes to see this beautiful country take two steps back whenever it finally manages to make a step forward, so let's keep our fingers crossed.

Look at the size of the posters

Thailand General Election 2011 will soon become history, and many things will be forgotten, but for me, Mr Chuvit (like Mr Low Thia Kiang of the Workers' Party in Singapore), who strives to become the co-driver of an imperfect ruling government, and his pek-cek (frustrated) face/s will linger in my mind until they make their inevitable appearances once again in a few years' time.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Santorini Part 2: Sunsets on Honeymoon Island

We spent 2 beautiful nights on Santorini. In my previous post, my focus was on the multi-coloured beaches sprawling across the edges of the island, but there's much more to Santorini than that (WARNING: Lots of pictures in this post).

There are breath-taking views everywhere
Donkeys to help you with your luggage if you are gasping for breath up and down the hills
Interesting plants for interesting picture-taking opportunities
Animals who enjoy the best scenery in the world

Numerous spots to take the "best picture"
And of course, there are ancient ruins, wineries, shopping, food and everything you can think of for a tourist destination. However, for our 2 evenings on the Honeymoon Island, it was really all about sunsets.

The village of Oia is renowned for having the BEST sunset view in the whole of Santorini. I don't wish to argue against that, but having been there myself, I have to say that whether you get a good sunset does not completely depend on where you are, but whether you have Lady Luck (and Mother Nature, or are they the same? Hmmm...) on your side. We easily had a much better view of the sunset on the night where we were at Firostefani.

In any case, since you are probably going to Greece round about summertime, a tip from me would be to make a reservation at a restaurant with a good view preferably a day in advance, due to the hordes of tourists who will be there to provide competition. A romantic dinner with the evening sunset as a backdrop is too good to be true, so to miss it would be criminal!

Sunset 1 - At Vanilia, restaurant with a view and amazing food.

Honeymoons are made of this!

It was amazing to witness the sunset here
In the perfect ambience, we were joined by a noisy smooching couple behind us and couples on their wedding anniversaries in front of us. We were probably the only ones on our honeymoon.
The wires really spoil a good picture.
Days are long in Europe during summer, so be prepared to wait if you get hungry usually by 6pm. By the time it gets dark, it will be way past 9, and cold and windy. Prepare a coat or ask for a blanket from the restaurant. After enjoying a sunset of this quality, we were of course not expecting much better for our next one.

Sunset 2: At the famous village of Oia

As sunsets are late, you can expect a long period of waiting. The difference is, the best spot at Oia does not have a restaurant. It's just a small area which gets more and more crowded as the time nears. We got there a couple of hours early so found a place to sit and chill for a while.

I joined Hector in his search for happiness, at that moment I couldn't be happier, to be honest.
I even found time to make my way to a cafe to get some traditional Greek sweets for a simple dinner.
We were in Greece from 1-9 June, which was not the peak season yet. The number of tourists increase dramatically during the scorching months of July and August, so it was actually quite a good time for us to be there. But having said that, we still had to contend with more than a hundred people to catch a good view of the sunset. It was also impossible to get a good picture with so many people around trying to do the same thing at the same time. It didn't help that the sky was cloudy and we hardly even had a peek of the sun. It was simply a case of the sky gradually darkening till everyone gave up, so much for the best spot!

I cannot imagine the size of the crowd during July and August

The best I could do to show the Oia sunset

Our honeymoon was really great, and I've has so much to share that after 4 posts exactly 3 weeks, I still have enough material to lengthen my Stranger in Greece series by quite a bit.

I am back in Bangkok now, making all the necessary preparations to tackle the double-edged sword of moving my office and home concurrently in a few weeks' time. I need to switch off this holiday mode and approach the challenges ahead feeling enthusiastic and refreshed.

So goodbye Stranger in Greece, step aside for the return of the Stranger in Bangkok.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Santorini Part I: The red, the white and the black

Thinking of Santorini puts a smile on my face. Especially after an uninspiring couple of days at Mykonos, we were looking forward to a more delightful experience at Santorini, the so-called Honeymoon Island (who can argue against it) boasting the picturesque caldera which was formed by the Santorini volcano. It's also littered with archaeological sites, sprawling vineyards, colourful (!!) beaches and of course, a breathtaking (depending on your luck) sunset.
Its many old abandoned buildings also satisfied my photo-taking crave
As there's too much to share, I have decided to split my coverage of Santorini into 2 posts, with this first one being about the colourful beaches on the island. You might know from my previous posts that both Li Li and I are really not beach people. We do not know how to swim and absolutely detest burning ourselves under the sun. It takes a lot for beaches to impress us, and so they did......

Before I go on, I have to warn everyone that the beaches in Greece tolerate nudity, so if you have been longing for a moment of complete public liberation (or humiliation), please go ahead. But guys, if you are actually looking forward to seeing hot chicks in the buff, I wish you the best of luck, as you would probably see 3 grandmas baring their bodies before you see a decent-looking babe willing to flaunt anything of note.

See - It's really red!
Don't ask me why, but Santorini boasts white, red and black beaches (though it surely would have something to do with the volcano's lava and ash). The red beach is situated at village Acrotiri, which also has an ancient city (which was to our frustration, closed during our visit), restaurants (commonly known as Tavernas in Greece) dug into rock, and the supposed white beach (which did not leave an impression).

Logically, the beach wouldn't be blood red of course, so we did not go there with overly-high expectations, but it was really quite fascinating when we finally saw it.
Red Cliff appears in Greece
As you can see, the shallow beach is right under a dramatic red cliff and leads immediately into crystal blue waters. The sand is not fine and the beach tattered with uneven rocks, but you definitely need to add it into your itinerary, even if it's just for a few minutes to take some pictures.

An abrupt door cut unto the red cliff, I wonder who lived here?
 After witnessing a red beach, we were naturally curious to see what a black beach would look like, so we went to Kamari, one of the more popular black beaches in Santorini, and boy, it sure did not disappoint.

Happily playing with the black sand
Unlike at Acrotiri where the beach was really just a narrow strip of rocky flatland leading almost immediately into the sea, the beach at Kamari looked exactly like a standard beach resort, just BLACK. The coarse sand and gave us a challenging hot foot massage as we battled our way towards the water, where the sand became shiny smooth black pebbles.

Happy to be at Kamari
Though the colourful beaches at Santorini were not as breathtaking as the caldera or as majestic as the Acropolis, they were definitely unforgettable eye-openers which I would recommend to everyone who plans to visit Santorini.

So here's a picture which summarises what our visit to the black beach was all about:

Smooth shiny black pebbles near the water
leading up to smaller coarse grains of ash-gray sand,

leading up to my bag and our slippers
leading up to a Mediterranean lady in a black bikini

leading all the way to the Greek flag!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mykonos: 5 windmills, long winding alleys, a big fat Greek wedding and a pelican

Our short but tiring honeymoon has just crossed the finishing line. The Greek expedition was fantastic, though not everything went to plan. My (new) laptop screwed up (thus the lack of updates), I had to work more than I expected, and 2 out of 3 of our hotels were not up to scratch to name a few, but oh well, the positives far outweighed the negatives, so consider it a very very blessed trip!

Following Athens, we made our way to the famous island of Mykonos. From our minimal research, we knew that it was a place famous for its beaches and nightlife which never ends (not our cup of tea), and after 2 days, the findings proved to be accurate.

View from the old port
Don't misunderstand, Mykonos is really pretty, with sparkling turquoise seawater and uniform white cubes(buildings) forming a unique landscape.

It is the beachboy/girl's paradise.
It's just that destroying our skin under the blazing hot sun followed by hurting our bodies further with the never-ending nightlife did not exactly appeal to us. It didn't help when public transport only brought you to 2 places (Ornos and Mykonos Town). In the end, for us at least, Mykonos became a tale of 5 windmills, long winding alleys, a big fat Greek wedding and a pelican.

4 of the 5 windmills, it's one of the postcard pictures everyone has to take
It would take no more than half a day to finish walking Mykonos Town, which is basically made up of a maze of beautiful winding alleys flanked by restaurants and shops which sold more or less the same things. However, it would be good to note that this is also where the nightlife begins and never ends, whatever that means.

How a quieter alley looks, pretty eh?
You would probably not be able to leave Mykonos without buying a souvenir with its mascot Petros the Pelican on it. Though Petros has since passed away, pelicans were still the stars of the show when we walked along the waterfront at the old port. These gigantic birds looked capable of shredding me into pieces if they wanted to, but to my surprise they were tame and friendly, some sleeping peacefully while others proudly changed poses like a supermodel for tourists to snap away.

One of the smarter poses I could catch it in
Last but not least, as much as we found Mykonos the most uninspiring stop of our trip, one of the highlights of the honeymoon happened here as well. Thanks to our otherwise "not-very-pleasant" host at the "not-very-impressive" Eva Hotel, we spent 3 of our meals at the same restaurant, including our first dinner, when we gate-crashed a big, fat Greek wedding!
In actual fact, the wedding was not between Greeks. The bride's South African, the groom's Polish, they both live and met in Hong Kong, and were getting married on Mykonos Island, Greece, with a wedding party mostly conducted in English! It's ok if you did not manage to follow me on the couple's background, because since there's Greek food, live Greek music, Greek alcohol and lots of Greek dancing, who cares?

They sure had a lot of Greek fun
As we were on our honeymoon, it seemed fitting that we managed to experience a Greek wedding party and a great honour to be able to share their joy. It was undoubtedly by far the most unexpected bonus of our journey!
How could I complete this post without a picture of Li Li and myself in Mykonos? So here goes...
Next stop: Santorini.
It would take at least 3 more posts before I end off this Stranger in Greece series. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Stranger in Greece explores the many faces of the Acropolis

Damn, it's difficult to find some good free internet.... We are already in Mykonos, and the wifi of my hotel which I am using now is dodgy, but at least it's free and it works...

Athens was good, as expected. The new Acropolis Museum was fantastic. Built over ancient ruins, we could see the actual dug-up archaeological sites under our feet as we walked on transparent glass panels in parts of the museum. Our guide also gave us an interesting insight on the powerful Greek empire, though the most amusing information for me (pardon my ignorance) was that Eros (aka Cupid) was actually the son of Aphrodite, Goddess of love, beauty and sensuality. Now that's where those English words came from...

It was the second time I strolled through the ancient city of Athens, but it still managed to enchant me like it did the first time.

Theatre of Dionysus
The Acropolis! I finaly brought Li Li here... =)

Our first 2 days weren't perfect though. Our hotels have been a little disappointing thus far, but well, it's our honeymoon, we have made it a point to make the best out of whatever we are given, so here goes...

The view from our Hotel in Athens, hanging underwear!! Quite arty though, don't ya think?
As I shared in my last post, one of the biggest reasons why I chose Athens as our honeymoon destination was because it was the single city that left the greatest positive impact on me during my countless business trips, so I felt the need to bring Li Li here to experience it for herself, especially the feeling of sitting right opposite the Acropolis when it's brilliantly lit-up at night.

Fortunately, after hours of searching, I finally managed to find the location of the hotel I stayed in during my previous trip (Apostolou Pavlou Street), but the hotel is not there anymore. Nonetheless, we still managed the complete the nostalgic experience at the classy Chocolat Cafe.

Remember this place, I HIGHLY recommend this cafe for all visitors in Athens
As its name suggests, this place specialises in all things Chocolate, be it drinks or dessert. It even has a chocolate salad! Most importantly, its rooftop floor presents us with a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, which was exactly what we needed.

The Acropolis watching over us.....
After our main course of Parpadele with lemon cream sauce, fresh salmon and zuchini, which was ok but a little dry for my liking, we ordered the cafe's special dessert, a platter of 3 chocolate mousses (milk, dark and white) with 2 huge scoops of chocolate ice-cream.

The fantastic dessert. It cost us 22SGD, but it's a combination of 5 elements that can each cost up to 6-8SGD easily in Singapore, so it's value for money!

While we were happily tucking into our food, the Acropolis showed its many faces.

Majestic in the day
Gloriously brilliant after nightfall
If you only have time for 1 good meal in Athens, believe me, this has to be the best way to enjoy it. The free shot of Limoncello after the meal was not our cup of tea, but we'll treat it as an added bonus anyway!

We're currently on Ornos Beach, Mykonos!

Thanks to all your well-wishes and blessings, I consider this a smooth start to our exciting journey.

Mykonos next, watch this space!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Stranger in Bangkok becomes the Stranger in Greece

Finally, after 9 long months, we are going to Greece for our honeymoon! To celebrate this very special occasion in my life, I am doing a 3-week Stranger in Greece special to share all the thrills and thrills during the trip.
The Acropolis in Athens
I am not a complete stranger to Greece, having spent 5 days there a few years ago towards the end of a 35-day business trip in Europe spanning 9 countries and over 20 cities. It was by far the most challenging business trip I had in my ex-company as I had to do it alone. By the time I arrived in Athens, I was already in a state of complete fatigue as the daily meetings, switching of 1-2* hotels and chasing after trains dragging my 30kg luggage took their toll.

Fortunately, my kind client adhered to my budget of 50Euros/night and managed to put me up at a small inn staring right at the Acropolis. It was already August (summer holidays!), so after my meetings, I returned to an area of complete hysteria, with tourists from all over the globe enjoying their late alfresco-style dinners under the majestic Acropolis accompanied by talented musicians who crooned all night long.

After the 5 days in Athens, I felt human again. I shaved again, I found a reason to smile, and I felt energised sufficiently to complete the final and most daunting leg of my trip- an exhibition in Copenhagen.

As I type this blog in Changi Airport now, eagerly anticipating my flight to Athens, I am hoping for more of the same this time round, just better as I will have the best company in the world.

Hello dodgy taxi drivers, deep-fried cheese with lemon which tastes literally like puke and salads with the most-hated raw green bell peppers, the Stranger in Greece is coming!
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