Monthly Archives: March 2007

Old Patong: Dutch Jeff

I first met the big Dutchman at Thai Garden Restaurant, at the time he, his wife Dao & newcomer, David Polman had formed a company, with Jeff & Dave being co general managers, while Dao really did everything from dishes to curry, and with a hardworking attitude and smile.

Jeff was a large man, at 6’2″ and 250lbs, the bald headed Dutchman seemed to be talking constantly. When first met, he seemed overbearing, slightly redneck and at times you wish he’d just shut up.

After getting to know Jeff, he became very personable, often funny, constant joker with a knowledge of history that most had no idea of.

The gentle giant had been a part of the Underground in Holland during WWII, helping the Allied cause, so much so, that when the war ended, he was given immediate immigrant status in USA, where he turned his demolition skills to the construction industry.

Jeff floated around, when Viet Nam war got going, he resided in Saigon as an “advisor”, his favorite story there was how he took a month old baby reeking of fever, immersed it carefully in an ice bath and saved the childs life, after local “Dr’s” had given up on the child and left it to the “tiger balm” medics locally.

Jeff had been to Thailand for various “reasons” during the war and after the war, he moved first to Bangkok, living around Sukumvit for several years before he finally made the plunge and relocated to Patong beach.

One of the first expats living in “the old green house”, Jeff rented this place for about 4yrs with his wife Dao.

After meeting David, setting up biz in the newly formed Thai Garden, things changed rapidly, when Jeff scurried off to Penang to re up his visa, Jeff being a true Dutchman, never spent one satang more than he had too, taking the baht bus to HadYai, then onto Butterworth.

By the time he returned a week later, David and Dao had run off to Songkla, Nikon Si Tammerat and Koh Samui for a “holiday”.

Jeff knew the score, Dao had played around before with SAS pilots,etc and he knew better than to get into a brawl with his so-called new biz partner, instead, he simply moved out of the “old green house” and back into what at the time was considered the remote village of Baan Nam Sai Yen, actually just 3 kilometers to the east, on the other side of the rice paddy located at the base of the rubber tree’d mountains.

Dao moved in with David, they got Thai Garden up and running, Jeff and David still ate lunch together daily, Jeff would often come around just after the paper boy had delivered the Bangkok Post, as long as I can remember, Jeff never actually bought anything at Thai Garden, but would read the paper after another customer had left it there.

Jeffs favorite hobby at the time was to “acquire” paper back books, he’d only take those in almost new condition, that had been “left” in the restaurant, Jeff, within several years had thousands of books in his little house, he’d built from the ground up.

Life went along fine for Dutch Jeff, he enjoyed his new found single life, floated from one party to another, in Old Patong, a party could start at noon and last til those purchasing the drinks and food left a few days later or a month later! Jeff seemed to know where the partys were and you’d see him enjoying the good life, at a Dutchmans price…:-)

Jeff, at times could be obnoxious, but one the whole he was a good fella and would help most anyone in need. In Old Patong, not many people or things really needed help however, but the big Dutchman could be seen helping a neighbor dig a well or helping a Yachty pull his boat into deeper water as the tide rapidly ran back out to sea.

At one party, another expat took Jeff to be a person the opposite of a Dutchman, in other words, a German, Jeff was belittled for blabbing so much, but in the end, he won all hearts when he left the party say “Merry Christmas everyone”, most had gotten so uptight and/or drunk, they forget what day it was, but Jeff didn’t.

Jeff went on to marry a local gal, Panom, they soon had a little boy, “Jep Noi”, he’d bring the boy along on his 50cc Honda, barely enough power to get the big Dutchman about, but all liked lil Jep Noi and his lil sister Tanui, about the same time Dao named her dog Tanui also, this was just part of the little passive agressive nature of things, but Jeff let it roll off his back like duck in water…

Crazy Dave would get incensed when lil Jep Noi would use Thai Gardens as a hognam, but the rest of us, who didn’t have to clean it up, roared with delight as the lil boy would run around and under and over tables, knocking things astray with a little kick here or a grab there. Then Jeff, Jep Noi would be off and down the road to the next celebration of life.

In Old Patong, the celebration never really ended.

btw, although Dutch Jeff hasn’t been around since the early 90’s, you might have seen him! He played the Russian Ambassador in the movie “The Killing Fields”, but that’s another story of Old Patong, where most anything could and would happen…:-)

Thai Prison Museum

Mahachai prison

We often talk about the top 10 attractions in Bangkok for tourists. Most of these are familiar to all of us. However, if you have already been to Thailand before, or you feel that you cannot face yet another temple, then the Corrections Museum on Mahachai Road offers a suitable distraction. Fortunately it is not yet in the Lonely Planet, so if you do decide to go there, you will find that you will get your own personal tour of the prison and museum. My tour guide was a charming Thai lady who very enthusiastically picked up a sword to demonstrate how they used to behead prisoners in the old days. I asked her if the place ever gets crowded. She said, oh yes, yesterday we had a party of four people come. Anyone else that day? No, just them.

The Bangkok Remand Prison (or Special Prison as the name says in Thai), was the first prison built in Thailand based on international standards. It was built by command of King Rama V in 1892 after a visit to a prison in Singapore. By 1990 the prison had become too cramped and overcrowded and so everything was moved to Lad Yao Prison. Most of the buildings were then knocked down to make room for a new park called Rommaninart. Fortunately, they decided to keep one of the cell blocks, three of the administration blocks, a section of the wall, two watch towers and the main gate. This was then turned into a kind of prison museum where visitors could learn about prison life and forms of punishment, torture and execution in Thailand since the Ayutthaya period.

Execution by gun

In the first building there were many pictures showing daily life in the prison. There were also two scale models which showed the park today and how crowded it was when the prison was operating. There were many buildings and very little, if any, place for the prisoners to exercise. Probably the highlight of this first building were the demonstrations of the three methods of execution which were used in Thailand. In the first room, models were used to show execution by sword. Three men were used during the execution. One would dance and prance in front of the prisoner, and when they thought he was calm, the second guard would creep up from behind and chop off his head. On display are some of the original swords used to behead prisoners. There is even a picture of the last executioner who was kept busy chopping off heads as late as 1934. On display was also an axe which was used to chop off the feet. Their shackles were welded on tight so the easiest way to remove the chains was to cut of the feet.

The next method of execution was by gun. The prisoner was tied to a wooden cross with lotus flowers tied between his palms. A screen with a target marked on it was then placed between the prisoner and the gunman. This way the gunman never saw the man he was about to shoot. Between 1934 and 1977, a total of 213 prisoners were executed in this manner. Finally, after a visit to America, the prison authorities decided to change the method of execution to lethal injection. The first execution by this method took place in 2003. In the third room there is a table showing how the prisoner was strapped down before being injected. Many of the displays have English translations, however, there are some sections where the information is only in Thai. My tour guide said she spoke some English, though she seemed to prefer to speak Thai to me.

Tha itorture

We left this building and then made our way into the park where I was escorted to the only remaining cell block on the northern wall. This was Area 9 which was for female prisoners. Along the way we passed the only remaining section of the wall. I asked my guide about the little gate in the wall and she said it was for taking out the dead prisoners. However, she assured me that no executions took place here and that the prisoners only died of natural causes and diseases. The exhibits in the cell block made me think otherwise. On display in each of the cells were different forms of punishment and torture. Many of these were being used right up until 1934 when they were banned by the Penal Code. I think my favourite was this human takraw ball. If you have been to Thailand then you might have seen a group of men kicking between them a small ball made of rattan. The idea is to keep the ball off the ground without using your hands. This version of the ball was much larger. A man was put inside the ball. If you look closely you can see that the inside has many nails sticking through. This large ball was then kicked around by elephants!

Other torture methods on show include a chin hook, a pillory, a head squeezer and a coffin. For the latter the prisoner was squeezed into a tight fitting box and the lid was nailed shut. Two small holes helped him breath. The box was then left out in the direct sunlight. Other display items include prisoner restraints, weapons made by the prisoners, confiscated drugs, prisoner uniforms and homemade cards used for gambling. I had quite an interesting one hour tour of the the museum. There is no admission charge which is a refreshing change. However, you are urged to make a donation in the box as you leave the first building. Also write a nice comment in their visitors book. The Corrections Museum is open Monday to Friday between 8.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. It is on Mahachai Road which is on the Western extreme of Chinatown. It is within easy walking distance of Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing. I parked my car near Wat Suthat but then later found out that I could have parked inside the museum. Taxis know this place as “kook gao” which means “old prison”.

If you want to see more pictures, then please visit and follow the link for Corrections Museum.

Call me crazy

I never thought about it until today.

How can one be assessed for mental illness or disorder like depression and anxiety in a country where it is in our culture to keep everything private and to not bother anyone else?

Could a Thai goes to therapy be completely honest?

Hey, OakMonster! What on earth possess you to ask those questions?

Why, dear reader, a recent diagnose for my mom’s condition is what brought on such insight, of course!


Continue reading

Wenceslaus Hollar is alive and well?


Wenceslaus Hollar, one of the most famous of 17th century printmakers, died in 1677. His work, while brilliant and vast, could hardly be interpreted as contemporary. Yet it is the very same Hollar who has inspired a young Thai artist, Praphan Rakarin, to produce a daring, complex, enormous, imaginative, passionate and highly original painting. The painting is called London 1, a plain name for an anything but plain piece of work.


Wenceslaus Hollar was born in Prague in 1607. Over the course of his long life he meandered across Europe, including two spells in England, both before and then after the English Civil War.

Printmaking was its peak of popularity in the 17th century and Hollar an acknowledged master. His output was prolific, more than 2,700 etchings covering a vast range of subjects.

He is perhaps mosts famous for his maps. The map to the right is one of his best works — London in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666.

The plain white area in the center of the map represents the area of London destroyed by the fire. Hollar convincingly conveys the enormous scale of destruction.


Here you see an excerpt of another Hollar print, detailing London both before and after the fire.The detail is exceptionally fine.

In both prints, the River Thames is used as the anchoring viewpoint.

Hollar combines an excellent eye for detail with magnificent technical skills. His work remains celebrated and very collectable.


Let’s turn now to Praphan Rakarin, or Tom as he is better known.

I wrote about Tom not long ago, in “Praphan Rakarin: a monochromed Turner?

There I discussed the different influences on Tom’s work, especially that of J.W. Turner. On the right, you see one of his London series. The technical skill of the Houses of Parliament — very Turner-esque in my opinion — is matched by the wonderful shading and tones of the monochrome spectrum.

The detail of the Parliament has certain echoes of Hollar for sure, but there is little obvious resemblance.


If you look at this Hollar print you see that his style, typical of the period, was much more architectural and precise than anything that Tom has produced.

In fact you only really capture the influence of Hollar in one of Tom’s paintings, named London 1.

It is a plain title for what is an anything but plain painting.

Painted in 2005, shortly after Tom arrived in London, it is the masterpiece of the London series.

It is a vast work — 2.5 meters wide and 1.5 meters high. It’s scale is such that it almost overwhelms you.


Here it is. I first saw it in Tom’s studio, where he also lives.

It is an area of Bangkok known by local residents as Ghost City. It consists of numberless residential towers, abandoned and left empty in the aftermath of the 1998 Asian economic crisis.

Slowly people are beginning to move back there but the name Ghost City is apt. It is an eerie, rather soulless place. The quiet is disturbing amidst the normal Bangkok background of noise, pollution and chaos.


I walked into Tom’s appartment to be confronted with canvas upon canvas, stacked anywhere and everywhere. Reaching the living area was like scaling a mountain peak.

In the kitchen there was no food at all, just water, coffee, wine, beer and bottle upon bottle of whisky, each opened, some empty, some half full. Ashtrays are everywhere, overflowing with cigarette butts.

Sit anywhere and you are likely to find black ink on your clothes. In many ways it is a typical artist’s studio!

I wandered into the bedroom which is surprisingly neat. There was just one painting there, London 1, hung in the center of the wall, the first thing he sees when he wakes each day.

I looked at it, issued an expletive and just stared and stared and stared.

You know, even without knowing, that this is the work that Tom is most proud of and you can feel the love and emotion that has gone into it.


It was when Tom began to show me books of Hollar’s work that I understand the genesis of the painting, which is the set of maps that I showed at the beginning of this post.

Incredibly, he has gone back to Hollar’s and reinterpreted them into the modern day London skyline.

You have Battersea Power Station at the far left, all the way past London Bridge, to the “new” St. Paul’s of Christopher Wren, the Post Office Tower and Canary Wharf at the far right.

As with Hollar, the anchorpoint is the river, though Tom’s perspective is more interesting. As with Hollar you find incredible detail all over the painting.

It is an almost unbelievable piece of work. I can think of nothing else like it, other than Hollar. The monochromatic effect is magnificent. You just know that it would not work in color.

The shades and tones capture the mood of the city and the immensity of the river. London Bridge as a centerpoint provides an unusual but very effective perspective.

As I look at it I imagine the artist walking the streets of London, often in the rain, mainly in the gray, always in the cold. I imagine him sitting on the South Bank gazing across the river, his eyes tracing the arc from Battersea to Canary Wharf.

I see him studying in the libraries and galleries of the city, sketching manically day-after-day, conceiving the idea, planning the work and then slowly beginning to put it all together.

I see him working in his tiny London bedsit, paints and inks everwhere, the canvas almost the length of the wall, sleeping almost never, just painting, painting, painting.

It is, of course, a summary of all the 26 pictures of the London series but it is also much more than that. It is a testament to vision, skill, imagination, daring and idiosyncracy.

It is an immense work for one so young. A photograph does it an injustice. This is a painting that has to be seen to be believed.


Pass by Baling Hill, the limestone outcrops in Baling Town, a little town famous for the 1955 peace talks between Malayan Communist Party and the Government

After the tragedy of the van ambush, more and more Betong folks are going to Hadyai via Malaysia. Currently there is a shuttle bus traveling from Betong to Hadyai every day which costs 260 baht per trip. It is usually full and one has to make early reservation to get a seat.

I travel to Bangkok quite frequently, either for work or to catch an international flight from Bangkok to other places. As it takes only 1 ½ hour’s drive to Penang International Airport, I used to fly Air Asia from Penang to Bangkok. However, a few delay experiences have caused me to reroute by taking a flight from Hadyai International Airport. Nevertheless I hardly took the Yala route to Hadyai, but used the Malaysian route instead. Firstly being a security reason and secondly, to avoid the notorious winding road from Betong to Yala, which made me very sick every time.

It takes about 3 to 3 ½ hours driving from Betong to Hadyai Airport. Presently there is a new road under construction and once completed, it is expected to shorten the journey by at least 30 minutes.

As a frequent traveler, staying in the car for three to four hours is usual for me and it is the time for me to look at the view, to meditate, to rest and to sleep. Usually half of the journey I’d just be lying down on the back seat and zzzzz…. 

The route to Hadyai passes some small towns, villages, industrial zone and paddy fields. As Betong is a small valley town surrounded by mountains, one can only have short distance views and a slow drive. Therefore, speeding along the expressway with beautiful scenery passing by and viewing the vast paddy fields becomes a pleasurable experience. I really like the view of vast paddy fields alongside the expressway. Though they are not boundless like those in Cambodia, it is nevertheless the view one will long for when living in Betong town for too long!

Half way/The North-South Express Way

Paddy fields alongside expressway/The Malaysian Immigration Checkpoint

Leaving Malaysia and entering Thailand