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Signal Cigarettes

Published by on March 8, 2014

Signal brand cigarettes.

That’s the brand of cigarettes my grandmother smoked. Not the grandmother in Melaka, the other on that stayed with us at home and took care of me.

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No one else I knew smoked this brand of cigarettes, not then, not now. She smoked it when she stayed in Batu Gajah, and when she stayed with us, my mom bought it for her from the sundry shop near my house. I’m not sure if its a coincidence, or if my mom requested for the sundry shop to stock the brand, but i’ve never seen any other shop sell this particular brand.

It came in a simple pale orange box, with a picture of a white railway signal on the cover.

My grandmother smoked a pack a day, was thin as a reed, was completely deaf, swore like a Cantonese sailor, but lived to almost 80.

Anyway, the cigarette company is still around, its still being sold in the US, albeit from the website I can see they’ve changed to a modern box design.

Memories of Chinese New Years Past

Published by on January 28, 2014

Ever since I could recall, every Chinese New Year was spent in my paternal grandmother’s house. The entire clan converged there, so all my CNY memories are interminably linked to the happy times in that little house in Malacca.

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My grandmother was a respected matriach in the extended family clan, every year the relatives, both close and distant, would come to pay their respects to her.

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We had a tradition of hanging a red cloth around the door, like at some weddings. Except the cloth was measured for the door on the old wooden house my grandmother stayed in many years ago. The newer house had a bigger doorway , so cloth hung halfway at the sides.

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My grandmother never made cookies, but there was never shortage of goodies to eat. My favourites were always keropok (prawn crackers) and white sunflower seeds. The type with the salty white powder coating the shells.

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As with any traditional Chinese family anywhere in the world, the family dinners were always the focal point of reunions. I don’t really recall much of the food, but I do recall we always had steamed chicken and chinese sausages (‘lap cheong’). Later after dinner my dad would always have a small shot of rice wine made by my grandma.

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Lion dances were more common then, I suppose it was cheaper compared to now, one of the neighbours would definitely have them on. Firecrackers and fireworks were far less common, though.

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My grandma was by no means a cheerful person, but not mean or a disciplinarian. She was just serious and upheld the traditions. But I guess she liked New Year very much. She liked the attention of and the long chats about days gone by. I suppose its true then, they say that Chinese New Year is most enjoyed by the very young and very old.

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We weren’t a big family, but with 4 children and spouses, and 7 grandchildren, it made quite a crowd when we all came together. There is a photograph of the clan on one Chinese new Year, i remember. My grandmother sat solemnly in the centre, everyone else around her. I was sitting on my mother’s armchair rest to one side, i was probably 9 or 10. Maybe when i go home this weekend, i’ll dig out that photo.

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That old house now stands run down and deserted, waiting to be sold. The inhabitants, long passed on, others all grown up and grown away.

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Happy New Year, everyone. Remember the past, live for the future.

My 2013 in 9 Points

Published by on December 31, 2013

Today is the last day of 2013, and it is time again to review my past year in 9 points. To understand why only 9 (and not 10) you have to go back to the first of this yearly tradition to find out why. The past editions can be read here (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008).

New Year, New Job

Began the new year on Jan 21 with a new job with one the fastest growing Property developers in the country. Getting in the company was tough, keeping up with the job was tougher. But I’m thankful to God for the opportunity, and in a way, my previous short-stint job kind of prepared me for this. Things tapered off after 4 to 5 months, when i got to grips with the morning traffic and job-related stress. Also having a new (more understanding) boss helped a lot. As I approach a full year here, I am immensely thankful to the lord for the team he put around me (although staff turnover is very high).

Ukulele

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For my birthday, my wife bought me a ukulele. A ukulele! How cool is that? Learning to play, while easier than a guitar, is a little harder, though. But as in anything that require a new skillset, Practice, practice, practice.

Elections

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What year end list would not mention this? Yes, it was one of the biggest national event in our nation’s history. But for lust of power, it was victory at all cost. And it cost Malaysians everything – our freedom, cost of living, religious harmony, pluralism, and maybe soon, internet freedom.

Bangkok

khlong
(Very beautiful photo spot)

Six days of wonderful holiday in the Thai capital. Why haven’t I come here before?! And more importantly, when am I coming back again?!

Reacquainting with Weekly Football

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One day, on a spurious occasion, i upgraded my Astro to b.yond HD. And i make a resolution to watch more football. After all, i’m paying for the channels, and i had drifted away from weekly football for a few seasons already, due to other commitments. This was just before Arsenal resurgence due to the arrival of Özil, so it was a exciting time. As the cynical long time Arsenal fans would say, enjoy it while it lasts…

Galaxy 4

On the same day I got my Astro B.yond, I bought my Samsung Galaxy S4. Am I the only person to go from S1 to S4? Wow, things have really improved since the first model! No lag! No freezing! So clear! So expensive!

Books

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I cut down on the books for 2013 from the usual 50 to 18, mainly due to work commitments. Even with that, i found it difficult to make time to read, and to find good books that piqued my interest. Only a late flurry thanks to the Big Bad Wolf Sale helped me reach my target, and then all of a sudden, i didn’t feel like reading again. Maybe I should target only 12 books next year.

Christmas Play

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Some time back in May, the church YA asked me to write a script for the Christmas play. At first I was apprehensive, but i soon realize the tantalizing premise. A simple play to capture the uneasy sentiment of urban Chinese Christians in Malaysia in response to Islamization, emigration, rising crime, discrimination, etc. The script finally completed in August, casting and practices commenced in September, and there it was staged 3 times during Christmas.

I’m to say at least ONE person thought it was good.

Penang

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Last minute trip, been many years since I’ve been there. This was my first real ‘tourist’ trip. Navigating Penang is very much easier with Waze. Bonus, met 2 old friends I haven’t seen in years.

Hamley’s Toy Store, 1 Utama

Published by on December 7, 2013

I remember watching the cute ad for Toys R Us on Singapore TV. You know that catchy one that goes “I don’t wanna grow up…” Showing adorable mat Salleh kids hugging the giraffe and caterpillar plush toys and assorted colourful and expensive looking toys. I remember going to Toys R Us in Marine Parade (i think?) in Singapore although I don’t think i have much memories of it.

Some years later Toys R Us came to Malaysia, in The then new Subang Parade. They ran the same series of ads on local TV, except with local (equally adorable) kids. I remember it giving me kind of a hallowed view of the place, where you can find cool and exquisite toys that you won’t find anywhere else. Back then the only place we bought toys was from the local supermarket, or the Chinese sundry shop, both places mostly selling cheap China or Taiwan made knock offs that impressed mostly the youngest (or most naivest) of kids. But then again as kids buying toys wasn’t a big thing. We made our playstuff from bottlecaps or old ice cream sticks, or those small toys that come with junk food packs. Remember the Mamee toys?

Anyway, years later as an adult i moved to PJ to work and i visited the Toys R Us. To say it was disappointing was an understatement. It was basically the same as any other locally owned small time toy shop. Except it was bigger and probably with better layout design. But they sold the same Mattel, Hasbro, Barbie toys and board games. I used to joke that Toys R Us was no different from ToyCity.

I understand the necessity. They need sales volume to survive. Malaysians can’t afford the expensive stuff. So they sell all the fast movers. If you have too many samples or play areas, ugly Malaysians will damage them or worse, steal them.

Cool toy stores only exist in American movies like Big or Home Alone.

But what we do have are some cool indie specialist toy shops around in KL. There are a few in midValley and one particular one i like in BSC.

So when i heard that Hamley’s of London was opening in 1Utama, i was mildly excited but understandably wary. How awesome can it be, right? But i did make it a point going today (it opened on 30/11/13). Well, it was quite impressive. Despite it being expensive (that would be a given) they had a lot of their own house brand which had lots of cool toys. I won’t give too much away, but you should go and let the kid in you have a blast.

I hope they keep their standards up. In their defence, Toys R Us probably kept their image up at first, before market realities made them change (in their new location in Subang Parade, they seem to not even bother with ID). The same happened with other foreign retailers like Debenhams, Borders (another rant for another day) or Harrod’s. Dedenhams local capitulation is almost a comical tragedy.

My Second Adidas King of the Road

Published by on November 10, 2013

Last month I took part in my second 10K run, the Adidas king of the Road. Last year was my first race ever, you can read about it here.

A lot of stuff happened in between these two races. Since that last race, i had quit going to the gym since i changed jobs, and i only ran on weekends if i had the time. I had only re-joined a gym shortly before this second race, probably for just over a month. At that same time i ran an 8.5K night race, another first for me.

So all in all, this time round I was more prepared mentally (no more anxiety about waking up early or not being able to complete the race), but was slightly worse of physically. This year the weather was much cooler and shadier, and I would say the organisers were slightly better prepared than last year. So kudos to Adidas and their partners. I was a little disappointed to run almost the same time as last year, but i guess i shouldn’t be expecting too much if i only run 1 or 2 races a year, right?

On a somewhat related note, last weekend a home town friend i knew while growing up died unexpectedly last weekend in a tragic waterfall incident. I knew him since i was 7 years old, but i haven’t seen him in 20 years. Although i can’t say we were good friends, his passing only goes to strengthen my resolve to make the most of my time i have wisely – challenge myself to do things i’d never thought i could do, go new places, read more books, spend more time with my family, keep my good friends closer, and above all, never be satisfied with what you know now. Yes, and stop watching so much TV and snacking.

So what’s next for me? I’d really like to run a couple more runs a year, start studying a few more topics that interest me (this usually means expensive books). We’ll see.

Jeram Toi Waterfall

Published by on October 20, 2013

It was a public holiday, and instead of the usual shopping mall trek or sitting at home in front of the telly, some friends and i decided to go to Jeram Toi waterfalls near Jelebu.

I’ve been here before last year on my many trips to Kuala Klawang in Jelebu. Its easy to go, very near the main road, and suitable for kids.

So in the morning, we loaded the cars and convoyed down the LEKAS highway. The waterfall is about an hour away, turn off at the Jelebu exit and follow the signs.

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The lower parts of the falls has a man-made pool with water slides. Right above it there’s a pool for swimmers.

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For those craving for more authentic nature experience, you can climb up the steps beside the falls to enjoy the beginnings of the falls and river.

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Pure Jatomi Fitness Vs. Fitness First

Published by on October 5, 2013

I was a member of Fitness First (FF) for about 4 years, at the Curve Branch. When I joined the gym coz it was near my workplace at the time in KD. I had the choice of Celebrity Fitness in 1 Utama, but FF was nearer, plus you know how the parking situation in the mall can be at times. True Fitness opened a branch in Sunway Giza but that was much much later.

When I quit my job, I terminated my membership at FF. A year later I joined Pure Jatomi Fitness (PJF) in Tropicana City Mall. The story is that the founder of FF named Michael sold his business and formed another gym chain with two other guys James and Tony (hence the name Jatomi). In KL at the moment, there very few branches compared to the other big 3 (FF, Celebrity and True Fitness).

So I’ve been a using the club regularly for more than a month. Since I’ve only used this branch and FF The Curve before this, I can only make comparisons between these two branches.

Good for Jatomi:
Its cheaper. I’m paying about RM120+ for corporate package, which means I get towel facilities and accesss all other branches (this is albeit a moot point, I’m not patronizing any of the other branches). FF charges me for RM160+ for local membership, their passport membership is a lot more. They were a little cheaper before this, but about 2 years ago they started charging GST. Towels used to be free, but now cost RM5 (not sure of the price) per usage. So don’t forget to bring you own towel.

With PJF being new, there are far fewer members so it isn’t crowded. However, having said that, their weights section is really cramped and small.

In terms of tech, PJF wins hands down. They use a wristband locking system, so no problems of losing your key or locker getting broken into. they have phone charging stations, 6 internet stations, latest workout stations with internet and TV. FF has the same workout stations, but the internet never works.

Good for Fitness First:
Their club is bigger and better equipped. Jatomi definitely does not have enough weight machines and dumbbells. Every time I want to work my splits, I either have to wait for it or improvise with some other workout.

FF has more classes and more frequently. if I am not mistaken PJF only has 2 classes after work. I am not sure why, but they are not popular at all, compared to FF’s which are almost always packed.

FF has many trainers walking around and helping customers if they have problems, correcting mistakes (although most of the time the guy trainers spend their time flirting with the ladies). PJF doesn’t have this.
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At the end of the day, for me, personally any gym membership is useless if you don’t make the most of it to increase your strength and health, so if you don’t maximize your time and money, all the above is meaningless. Having said that, I feel other than the cramped areas and limited machines, PJF gives better value for your money.

Running My First Night Race

Published by on September 7, 2013

On the night most serious runners were in Putrajaya running the Shape Night Race, i was halfway across the Valley running another smaller race.

About a month ago, a few days after the closing date, my wife and I signed up for the Tropicana Nite Race IV. This race was 8.5 km on buggy tracks across one of the best golf courses in the city. I signed up mainly as a warm up for the Adidas King of the Road in October, and probably to put my end to my lack of serious exercise lately.

90 minutes before the start of the race, we were on the way and it started raining heavily. Pouring. I wasn’t really worried. These downpours don’t last long. Besides, running after the rain is always better than a hot sticky evening. Sure enough by the time we got to the golf club, it had reduced down to a slight drizzle.

It was a small race, about 200 participants over 3 age categories (men and women) and a family category. We had to wait around a long time coz the race was delayed about 35 minutes ‘to wait for latecomers stuck in the traffic jam’. I thought this was unnecesary, if people are late, they start late. This late start would affect many of the runners later in the race, as we would discover later on.

Anyway after a lot of announcements, the different categories were set off. My group, men’s 35 years old and above, were the biggest group, with about 30 runners. And we were off!

But as with my other runs, the first 2km were the toughest. As usual, i was thinking “Why did I sign up for this? I’m not going to make it. Can i turn back?” This was actually a tough course. A lot of steep slopes, especially the tunnels going under roads. I had recently riden on the track on buggy, i don’t remember it being so tough. After all, if an electric buggy can climb the slopes, it can’t be that steep, can it?

The other thing that bothered me were my legs were stiff from my my 3km run in the gym the day before. I didn’t really go all out in the gym, but still i felt the effects in my run. It was only after 5km at about the halfway mark I could get some stride going. Then another problem hit – it started to drizzle. A light drizzle, but had we started on time, we would have avoided this.

But anyway, with my stiff calves and heels and the rain, i completed the run in about an hour.

After the run, I was happy and relieved. The rain made it cooling to run, but made the slopes slippery. Night runs are cooler than morning runs, but you’re tired even if you don’t exert yourself all day. But still, it was a good run.

Bangkok 2013 Wrap-Up

Published by on September 1, 2013

Our final day in BKK was mainly a late breakfast, lazing around, packing, and getting to the airport.

Getting a cab was a bit of a problem, we finally found one to take us for THB400 plus toll. Toll costs less than THB100. Thankfully, AiraAsia didn’t delay on us (have we come to expect that of them?) and I spent a good part of the flight finishing Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself on the iPad.

overhead bridge
(Overhead bridge in Khlong Bang Luang)

By the time we got back to home sweet home, it was almost 8pm.

Looking back, it was a great and fulfilling holiday, considering it we weren’t supposed to be going anyway. Besides that, due to work commitments I didn’t spend all that much time doing research and planning. It was a pretty packed holiday, but as usual we still had plenty of time to relax in between our full itinerary. We almost did everything we wanted to do, except Maeklong train station and Koh Kred. Maeklong station – we didn’t get to go en route to Floating Market coz we were part of a tour group. Koh Kred – well, maybe the next trip. And in that next trip, maybe Ayutthaya, too.

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(Kacang tumbuk sold by an old lady near Baan Silapan)

Other than the floating market, we spend most of the trip in the city itself, so instead of a lot travelling like in our other trips, we were mostly doing the BTS / MRT thing.

flasks
(shop selling old timey stuff had these flasks on display…)

canal tour
(mat sallehs doing the touristy canal tour at the floating market)

One regret was probably not bring more Baht. We were running short over the last few days, so had to swipe card a few times and ration ourselves.

art
(art at Chatuchak)

cute boat
(cute homey boat at Saphan Taksin)

bumblebee
(Bumblebee and a famous actress)

For all the talk usually about BKK being hot, perennially choked with traffic, commercialized, etc, I guess you can say that about KL or any other Southeast Asian capital too. At least things are cheaper in BKK than KL. And the food, well, it is incomparable.

fruits otk
(all kinds of fresh fruits at Or Tor Kor Market)

durians
(and yes, durians by the roadside)

As in all our travel destinations, we said that that we’d return. We’ve never had a chance to return to any of our destinations, with the exception of Chiang Mai. Maybe more so for BKK… Well, we’ll see how it goes. There aren’t that many AirAsia cheap destinations left for us to explore.

prawns otk
(so prawny)

yaowarat night
(Chinatown lights at night)

Bangkok 2013 Day 5: Siam Ocean World, Baan Silapan & Patpong Night Market

Published by on August 28, 2013

Monday is Day 5, its also a public holiday, the Queen’s birthday. It’s also Mother’s Day in Thailand. I thought it would mean the malls would be packed, but it was no different from any other day during our trip here. Which was good for us.

I had booked discount tickets to Siam Ocean World via Hotels2Thailand, they offered really cheap tickets compared to the counter price. If you buy the tickets from the counter, there are two prices, one for Thais (or at least those who can read Thai) and one for foreigners. This is actually quite common here in Malaysia too, they usually call it Mykad price. Anyway, of all the attractions in BKK, why did we choose Siam Ocean World? Well, my family really likes sea creatures, so we try visit them as much as we can.

Siam Ocean World in located on the basement of Siam Paragon, long been one of BKK’s best malls. We reached Paragon just before opening time via the BTS station, and there was quite a crowd waiting for the security guards to open the roller shutters, unzip the velvet barriers, remove the crowd barricade… a gwailo even offered to help to slightly paunchy guards, but they politely waved him back… meanwhile everyone was waiting… waiting…

waiting

And it was open! Everyone filed in orderly, we immediately took the escalator downstairs. The view outside was fabulous, why can’t local malls be this cool?

siam paragon

Siam Ocean World (SOW) pretty empty when we got there, but their counter staff was horrendous. There was only one person ahead of me in the online ticket redemption line, but the counter girl took more than 20 minutes to settle his tickets. Next to me, there was a large European family group buying retail tickets, they were also having problems. Very poor first impression.

smiley
(Someone’s chippy today)

SOW is pleasant place to visit, but rather small. They have a few extra attractions like glass bottom boat ride, back of house tour, 5D cinema (whatever that means), but they all cost extra. We took the basic-basic package, so 2 hours is more than enough to spend here, even if you take picture of every exhibit.

strange fish
(not sure what this is called, but I’m pretty sure it’s not edible)

nautilius
(First time seeing a nautilius)

One of the more popular tanks is the penguins. Very playful and friendly.

penguin

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(clothes matches the sofa)

At the end of the path, you’ll go through the Perspex tunnel as with any aquarium in the world. Lots of sharks and turtles.

tunnel
(shark with delicious fins)

There’s gift shop outside. Some of the stuff they sold were cheaper than at Chatuchak. Anyway, we didn’t buy anything.

shark hat
(A shark bit my head)

If you are going to SOW, go early. Coz when we got out just after 12pm, the line to the counter stretched to the escalator. Not helped by the inefficient staff, I reckon.

long line to sow

We went back upstairs to Siam Paragon for lunch. The foodcourt, as expected, was great.

The highlight was the good pad thai and or chien.

more pad thai

or chien

After lunch we had to across town before 2pm. Where to? The Artist’s House, Baan Silapan. It was BTS to Wong Wian Yai again, then a short cab ride. If you want to go to Baan Silapan, make sure you have the name and address printed on a paper for directions. Most Thais won’t know about this place, even fewer can point to it. Anyway, at the end of a very long, nondescript road, that’s where the taxi can take you and its on foot from here. There is a wooden jetty that leads to a bridge across a khlong.

khlong
(Very beautiful photo spot)

Walking this short distance, you can see the traditional Thai riverside way of life, wooden houses on stilts and small shops serving the local community.

Across the river, its a short walk.

walking the khlongs

Lady making pad thai. Apparently, a few of these shops sprouted up due to Baan Silapan’s popularity.

khlong pad thai

rolly dog
(local version of daschund)

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(fancy a cheap haircut?)

Right near Baan Silapan, we stopped for Coke and coffee.

coffee stop

Next to Baan Silapan, there’s a house / toy museum that has lots of interesting stuff from our childhood.

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Baan Silapan is where artist congregate to paint, carve and sculpt. Entrance is free, but donations are encouraged. Or you can buy any of their affordable art pieces. But the highlight of the place is the daily puppet show at 2pm. This traditional puppet show is the direct descendent of the Joe Louis theatre, which is supposed to be re-established in Asiatique soon. But right now, this is probably the only place in BKK to see this dying art.

When we got there, two of the performers were conducting lively banter with the small crowd. Unfortunately, everything was in Thai. Some parts involved this adorable little boy, something to do with training him to perform the arts.

lil kid performing

At 2pm, they brought out the two puppets plus a picture of the king for prayers.

prayers

And then the show started.

hanuman

There are only two scenes portrayed, interspersed by more lively banter and using the puppet to interact with the crowd. Basically it portrays 2 scenes from the Thai Ramayana. The first one is basically just Hanuman performing, then the second involves Suvannamaccha (I had to google her name up).

fish

hanuman greeting
(Legendary Hanuman reduced to soliciting donations)

Although the interval chit chat and donation-soliciting were a little cheesy, the performance was immaculate. After the performance i had to see up close the puppet to see how they managed to make it soo flexible.

Hannah and suvannamaccha
(photo op for everyone! Donations welcome! I’m surprised how the mermaid princess could keep her deadpan face for so long.)

If you take a canal tour in BKK, you’d most likely see this red guy sitting outside the Artist’s House.

red guy
(He is extremely embarassed)

After browsing around the shops nearby, we went back to the main road. Some ladies told us to get onto a songthaew (first time on one of those) for the ride to the main road, cost us a very cheap THB5 per pax. From there it was a cab to BTS, and home to Sukhumvit.

In the evening, we decided to visit Silom night market, also known as Patpong. We decided to take a river boat, the one transport we haven’t tried in BKK. The ‘bus-stop’ is just next to our hotel, below a bridge.

waiting for river taxi

Unfortunately, the conductor on the boat going the opposite direction told us that the last boat going into the city had already passed, so no more boats that evening. We took the MRT instead.

On the way to the night market, saw a group of people standing outside a mall holding candles. Presumably it was to celebrate Mother’s Day, but they could be protesting something.

moms day

Silom market runs along the go-go bars, but there’s nothing really to shop there.

souvenirs

patpong night market

Behind the market we found some stalls, so we had our last pad thai meal in BKK.

frying guy

pad thai

So in the end, we went to Silom Complex shopping mall since it was still early. This is a large but quite mall just next to the BTS Station.

BTS

So it was an end to Day 6.

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