News and Event

Last weekend the lovely folks at Duang Prateep Foundation arranged a special gift bag giveaway for the kids of Khlongtoey to celebrate Children’s Day 2022. The local kids have been stuck at home since April last year due to the local schools being closed because of COVID and many of them have a had a rough time not being able to go to school or see their friends, so the day was a chance for everyone to come out, have fun, and get a bit of sunshine in their lives.

The DPF team all wore fancy dress (and even I donned a rainbow wig) and handed out around 3500 gift bags to local kids, along with free drinks, snacks and ice cream, and the railway track through Khlongtoey was lined with thousands of people. Factor in the 35C heat and it was probably the hottest, most exhausting session I’ve ever done! But it was great to see so many happy faces during what has been a fairly miserable time for many locals – well done Khun Prateep and team!

Here are some of my favourite shots of the event.

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Black Caviar is one of the world’s most exquisite and exotic foods. Fish roe that is from a sturgeon is considered black caviar because the eggs are commonly darker in color. True caviar comes from wild sturgeon, which belong to the Acipenseridae family. While the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea produced much of the world’s caviar for a long time, farm-produced caviar has now become popular, as wild sturgeon populations have been depleted from overfishing.


Expat Life was invited by Dr. Alexey Tyutin, Managing Director from Thai Sturgeon Farm Company Limited to visit their Hua Hin operation to learn more about this exotic delicacy. In Thailand, consumption of black caviar is popular among the upper middle class. The company supplies black caviar to luxury restaurants and hotels around the country. Reviews from the customers are very positive and highly rated.


Caviar as a delicacy 


Caviar comes from the Persian word “khaviar”, which means, “egg carrier.” Traditional caviar is the roe from wild sturgeon raised in the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea and has historically been called “black gold”; it is harvested from beluga, osetra, and sevruga sturgeon. In 1240, black caviar has been mentioned the first time in the historical records by the office of Mongolian Khan Batyi with the word “khaviar”; that later turned into “caviar” that we are using nowadays. In 1552 Russian Tsar Ivan IV The Terrible sieged Kazan and Astrahkan that used to be a part of Kazan Khanate and that started a true Russian caviar era. In 1629 Alexey Mikhailovich Romanov became Russian Tsar, over a decade over 300 tons of caviar produced in Russia were exported to Europe. The latest report on the caviar market from the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) shows that in 2018, global production of caviar was 380 MT.


In caviar, it is possible to affirm that its high cost is due to the scarcity of sturgeon fish, where the unique delicacy is extracted. This type of fish does not reproduce like other maritime species that multiply exponentially throughout all the world’s seas. Given this situation, prices are usually high.


Alexey explained, “Around the world, demand for the black caviar is high as before and even more, after all the sturgeon population has decreased and it is getting harder to get it. Caviar has been a Russian black gold long before the oil trade. Potential solution of the problem is aqua cultural fish breeding. Now the highest quality and the most expensive caviar comes from Iran, including the highest prized golden caviar Almas can fetch a price of over 20,000 Euros (USD 25,000) for a kilogram.”


New healthy way of production


Dr. Alexey described, “Five years ago, we built a sturgeon-breeding farm in Hua Hin, with a capacity of 1,5 tons of black caviar a year. Our aim is to sell black caviar in Thailand as well as other Asian markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau. The new technology not only took pressure off the natural ecosystems but even helped increase the endangered sturgeon population. Unfortunately, it is not as easy to breed sturgeon in simulated conditions as, for instance, salmon. The fact is that sturgeon species are extremely sensitive to the water pollution level, and above all they do not spawn in captivity. They need a special pool and female fertilization is managed with an operation.”


He further elaborated, “There is a risk of females dying while extracting caviar, but the loss of fish is only 1-2 % per year with our production method. Sturgeon breeding in aqua-farms presents an opportunity to get black caviar without killing the fish. Russia invented the method of extracting the caviar from the fish’s body with a cesarean-like surgical procedure. Fish females are not getting killed anymore in order to extract the caviar but can be used for another fertilization. A great advantage of this procedure is that the extracted caviar does not become overripe and deteriorate, and its quality remains extra high. Now the cycle from fertilization to caviar extraction can be repeated several times in a row.”



Tips of consuming black caviar


Dr. Alexey shared, “China now is the biggest caviar producer in the world covering more than 35% of the total market production. Europe is probably the biggest caviar consumer however a recent research has shown that 17 of 22 top restaurants in Paris are using Chinese caviar through the French brands. A few times, I met the Chinese farm representatives of Kaviari, Petrossian and CaviarHouse & Prunier that came to purchase caviar and control its quality before shipments. However, Europe and Arabic countries still allow usage of E285 (sodium tetraborate) firstly to prolong expiration date to 8-9 months and also to give caviar that popping effect. Europe allows using 0.4% of Borax though only 0.1% is recommended and their salt percentage is very high – 4.5%. Recent studies warned that E285 could be dangerous to a human body but still widely used by the European brands. E285 is forbidden in South East Asia and the United States; Russia uses sorbic acid instead, which is much less dangerous. Literally saying if you see any French or Italian caviar being sold in the supermarkets, it means that possibly they do not have FDA approval or avoid showing E285 on the tin.”

Readily pack for consumption


According to Dr. Alexey, “We produce only true Fresh Malossol caviar in Russian style with no preservatives added, no pasteurization and our products have from 2.8% to 3.2% of salt maximum. That limits us with expiration time but we prefer to deliver the best taste of caviar to our customers. We reduce salt percentage dramatically because most Thai people do not like caviar being too salty and come with a fishy smell.  We are working in Thailand for the past years launching promotions, events, and educating customers. We aim to create a bigger demand in caviar, as our farm annual production is 1.5 tons a year. Thai market for caviar is growing and we are taking a serious part in directing this process; I believe that in 3 -4 years caviar consumption will double and for that we lowered the prices on all items including fine Beluga caviar to stimulate more sales. In 2018 we opened a restaurant next to the farm serving mostly dishes of sturgeon and caviar in the menu.”



Benefits of black caviar


Aside from being as a luxurious seafood delicacy for culinary enjoyment, black caviar has been backed by science to have beneficial health properties due to its unique balanced composition.  Besides the perfect proteins, it contains vitamins A, B, C, D and E as well as micronutrients such as iodine, zinc, potassium, sodium and magnesium. Black caviar helps to improve the cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal tract.


Dr. Alexey enlightened, “Scientists have proved that people who regularly eat black caviar live for about 4-9 years longer than the others. The tiny eggs prevent the formation of cancer. Black caviar is recommended to those whose hemoglobin level is low because it compensates the deficiency of iron in the body. In addition, black caviar contains phosphorus, which is also needed for bone formation. Regular consumption of phosphorus helps to cope with insomnia and mental fatigue. It is also rich in lecithin and omega fatty acids that has beneficial effects on the brain and improves memory. Another benefit of black caviar is its richness in iodine, which serves as a good prevention for diseases of the thyroid gland.”

Informed further, “The miraculous beneficial characteristics of the black caviar began to be used for cosmetic purposes. It has been proven that nutritional characteristics of eggs are extremely useful for the maintenance of youthful skin as well as gloss and density of hair. Black caviar can be easily used for low-carbohydrate diets. It goes perfectly delicious on a simple boiled egg. New research proves that constant consumption of this wonder food is a way to extend youth, strength and potency due to its content of collagen. Another interesting benefit of black caviar is its content of acetylcholine, which increases human tolerance to alcohol. Enjoying this delicacy during a party will make you feel fresh and full of energy after a long cheerful night.” 

Black caviar is considered as a culinary delicacy, after learning their potential nutrimental benefits, all the more reason to savor by frequent consumption or use new cosmetic products that contain black caviar essence!

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The aftermath of the protests in Kazakhstan, floods in Brazil, fire in the Bronx and Novak Djokovic supporters in Melbourne: the most striking images from around the world this week

Windows of a building, which were smashed during recent protests triggered by the fuel price increase in Almaty.

Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic gather around a car outside what is believed to be the location of his lawyer’s office during a day of legal proceedings over the cancellation of his visa to play in the Australian Open.

People look out their window at the apartment building on East 181st Street which was the scene of a fire in the Bronx borough of New York.

Israeli security forces advance during a protest held by Bedouins against tree-planting by the Jewish national fund on disputed land near Bedouin village of al-Atrash in the Negev desert.

Israeli security forces detain a Bedouin man during a protest against forestation at the Negev desert village of Sawe al-Atrash.

Houses burn during a fire in the low income neighbourhood of Laguna Verde.

Neighbours help firefighters combat the fire in Laguna Verde.

A woman looks on from a canoe after leaving her house during floods caused by heavy rain in Maraba.

A firefighter finds a statue of a saint in the mud as she carries out inspection works in Raposos after the level of the Rio das Velhas lowered following heavy rains in the state of Minas Gerais.

Police officers detain people in a street in Almaty.

A student seats alone in a classroom after reporting back to school on day one of re-opening following an almost two-year closure to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Kampala.

Travellers watch television whilst waiting for cross border transport to resume in Bamako.

Priests chant and dance during the celebration of Genna, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas, at Saint Mary’s Church in Lalibela.

Olympic Cougar Project members work to replace the GPS collar on Lilu, a wild cougar, near Port Angeles.

A man sleeps on the sidewalk while pedestrians walk by and look at their smartphones in downtown Barcelona.

Villagers arrive to participate in community fishing as part of Bhogali Bihu celebrations in the village of Panbari.

Soldiers take part in the rehearsal for the Republic Day parade on a foggy winter morning in New Delhi.

A trainee pulls a fellow trainee, who is pretending to be injured, through sewage contaminated water during the last week of a ten week programme to become members of the Taiwan navy’s elite Amphibious Reconnaissance and Patrol unit, at Zuoying navy base.

Wild elephants scavenge for food at an open landfill site in the village of Pallakkadu.

Pallakkadu, Sri Lanka

Wild elephants scavenge for food at an open landfill site in the village of Pallakkadu. Conservationists and veterinarians are warning that plastic waste in open landfill is killing elephants in the region, after two more were found dead this week. Examinations of the dead animals showed they had swallowed large amounts of the non-biodegradable plastic that is found there.

Photograph: Achala Pussalla/AP

Welsh mountain ponies graze in the mist and rain on the salt marsh near Crofty.
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The Baat Woh Cantonese Opera Association of Thailand was inaugurated on 2nd November 2021.  This auspicious day is the birthday of the Chinese God of cultural arts,  “Huaguang”. The opening ceremony was held at Baat Woh Clubhouse in Muang Thong Thani, Bangkok. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was presided by Mr. Lee Sheung-yuen, Director of Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Bangkok.

Ms. Winnie Poon, who generously contributed to the enrichment of Chinese Cantonese opera culture, has been appointed as the first founding Chairperson of the association in Thailand.  Key founding members include Ms. Chow Siu Kwan, Grace Kwok, Annie Hung, Kathleen Pokrud and Civic Leung. Other key committees include members of the Hong Kong Ladies’ Group Thailand and long time Hong Kong residents in Bangkok.

Cantonese Opera was designated in the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. As one of the major styles of Chinese operas, Cantonese Opera is a highly respected and much-loved arts form that blends Chinese legend, music and drama into a vibrant performance style that’s rich with symbolic meaning.  It is very popular with audiences in southern China and many parts of Southeast Asia.

Mr. David Lau, Honorary Advisor, led the worshipping ceremony of Chinese God “Huaguang”. Many distinguished guests attended the event from various prominent Chinese associations. They included Ms. Sarintr Tsai, Honorary Chairman and members of the Thai Cantonese Opera Club, Dr. Jaruthien, Vice President of Kwong Siew Association of Thailand, Ms. Alice Wong, Honorary Chairman of the Thai-Chinese Women’s Association, Mr. Jose Lai, Vice President of Thai Hong Kong Trade Association and Mr. Roger Wu, HK social media influencer. The celebrities and VIPs of Cantonese opera from various countries and other Baat Woh associations abroad sent in video congratulatory clips. Hong Kong senior performing artist, Mr. S. H. Yeung Gary assisted in coordinating many congratulatory videos from the Cantonese opera community in Hong Kong.

With the opening speech, Ms. Winnie Poon explained, “​Thailand, due to the different language environment, has brought great challenges to the development of Cantonese opera. The song needs to be translated first, and then the local children are taught to pronounce and utter words “word by word”. The time spent is three to four times that of ordinary learning.  Cantonese opera requires an accompanying musical band. I was fortunate enough to use a group of Teo Chew music masters. I needed to slowly organize the music books for them, which cost a lot of manpower and material resources.  Coupled with the raging Covid pandemic, only online learning can be arranged. Fortunately, with the members’ perseverance and hard work, participation in the online Cantonese opera and gongs and drum courses were strong.”

In his speech, Mr Lee Sheung-yuen, Director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Bangkok, expressed his great pleasure to be invited to attend the opening ceremony. He highly praised everyone’s efforts, especially the persistence and dedication of the Hong Kong Cantonese opera enthusiast, Chairperson Winnie Poon. Director Lee congratulated on the establishment of Baat Woh Association in Thailand. He looked forward to seeing the wonderful performance of Thai performers in the world-class performance venue of Xiqu Center in Hong Kong in the near future.

The objective of Baat Woh Cantonese Opera Association of Thailand is to pass on the culture of Cantonese Opera. This provides the opportunity of Thai friends to learn about Chinese culture. When the world overcomes the pandemic situation, Baat Woh Thailand plans to hold an official grand opening charity concert next year, and hope to receive full support and participation from everyone!

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Topics for this issue include:
  1. Updates about Thailand Reopening
  2. Trip to Phuket
  3. Khao San Road is Back!
  4. Thai Taste Therapy
  5. How much do you trust public drinking water?
  6. Air Quality in SHA+ Transfer Vans
  7. Reopening of School Campus
  8. Updates about Bangkok Railway Station
  9. Twenty Hour Boat Voyage to Songkhla
  10. Win a Walking Bangkok Guidebook
  11. Interesting Tweets
  12. Bangkok Walking Maps – Part 9

Updates about Thailand Reopening

The Thailand Reopening seems to be going reasonably well. Over the last four days, we have seen an average of 10,000 international travellers arrive every day which is something we haven’t seen for a long time. Sunday was a record with 13,664 international arrivals. Most of these are fully vaccinated travellers using Test and Go. It has got to the point now that I am starting to easily spot foreign tourists in Bangkok. This is because most people are now arriving at Suvaranbhumi Airport – there were 9,279 international arrivals yesterday. In comparison, 3,969 people arrived at Phuket Airport. As far as totals go, we had 133,061 international arrivals in November and 160,445 arrivals in the first 19 days of this month. Obviously a far cry from the millions we used to have, but I like this new look with less tourists. I know I am being selfish, but this is really a great time to travel around Thailand as it is not too crowded.
Although the percentage of people testing positive on arrival has gone up slightly compared to last month – it is now 0.22% compared to 0.13% in November – it is still very low and shows that the various schemes are working. I think we were all hoping by now that there would have been a further easing of the entry restrictions. Unfortunately, although they were getting ready to replace the RT-PCR test on arrival with the cheaper ATK test, and also to increase the number of approved countries, the Omicron variant has thrown a spanner into the works.
I don’t think we are going to see any significant changes until the new year now. And it might not go the direction you want it to go. Although the number of new cases in Thailand, including deaths and hospitalisations, are continuing to drop, there is a real worry that we could see a new wave in mid-January. But, as the number of international visitors testing positive are so minuscule, surely there is no reason to bring a halt to Test and Go? But with this government, who knows how they will react. Time will tell.

Trip to Phuket

Now that travel restrictions have been eased, and also because I feel safer to travel a bit further, I did my first overnight trip last week. I flew down to Phuket for a couple of events. It was a useful trip for me as I gained a lot of firsthand experience that is helping me answer some of the hundreds of messages that I get every day. One of the main ones was about domestic air travel. I can confirm that during check-in at Don Mueang Airport I was only asked for my vaccination certificate. If you don’t have one, then you need to show a negative ATK test. This is becoming quite common now. On arrival in Phuket, there were no checks. The same with flying back to Bangkok.
During my first day in Phuket, I did a quick tour of the island visiting some of the major tourist attractions and destinations such as Phuket Old Town, Big Buddha, Cape Promthep, Nai Harn Beach and Patong Beach. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised how busy some places were. Of course, not as busy as pre-Covid, but there were a fair number of foreign tourists on the beaches and at the attractions. The biggest surprise was Patong which was reportedly a ghost town just a month or two ago. Bars were open and people drinking beer. Sunbathers were on the beach or swimming in the sea. And a good number of shops and restaurants had reopened too. Not all of them of course, but certainly enough for the number of tourists that are coming here. I also saw builders working on some of the closed shops getting them ready to reopen.

Khao San Road is Back!

Phuket had a head start over most tourist destinations as they started the Sandbox scheme back on 1st July. But since the main reopening on 1st November, Bangkok has become the number one entry point to the country. Which has meant more foreign tourists are being spotted on the streets of the capital. On Saturday night, I visited Khao San Road to see if that famous backpacker hangout had come back to life. It was certainly lively when I was there at 8:30pm on Saturday night, but it was mainly young Thais. Most of the foreigners seemed to be expats with only a handful of backpackers. To enter the road in the evening, you need to show your vaccination certificate or pay 100 baht to do an ATK Covid-19 test.
If you want to see the full video of my walk down Khao San road, see my Facebook Live post.

Thai Taste Therapy

I picked up this book at the Thai Taste Therapy Festival at Blue Tree Phuket. It includes recipes for more than 50 dishes. The tag line is “Let Thai food be your medicine”. You can find all of the recipes and more on their website: I am trying to get hold of some extra copies of this book for a future competition. I will let you know if I am successful.

How much do you trust public drinking water?

At Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports they now have these water fountains and water bottle fillers. I have promoted them several times. But then someone asked me a really valid question. How can we trust that they are changing these filters and cleaning the water stations? So, during my last visit to Don Mueang airport, I took along my TDS water meter which tests for total dissolved solids in the water. Obviously, my meter doesn’t test for everything. For example, it doesn’t detect poisons like arsenic and so it should only be used as a guide.
The first thing I did was test the water quality from the tap in the toilets. This was 203 ppm which is about average for Bangkok tap water. In theory, that is clean enough to drink but I wouldn’t do more than brush my teeth with that. I next tested the drinking water and found that it was 183 ppm. So, not much lower than tap water. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad because some filters not only clean the water but they then add minerals. I just don’t know if this one is doing that. I wrote to the manufacturer in America and they replied that they also don’t know which filter they are using as they haven’t ordered any new filters from them for several years. I next tested the water at a filling station further away that I presumed wouldn’t get so much foot traffic. The reading for this one was better at 159 ppm. 
Like I said already, this is not a scientific study as you need a lab to find out what else is in that water. But I think what it does do is remind you not to just blindly trust public drinking water outlets. As a comparison, I also tested the water at Phuket Airport. Tap water there was only 92 ppm which was surprisingly good. The drinking water dispenser they have there is from a different manufacturer. The one I tested gave a reading of zero. So, the filters were doing a good job of getting rid of dissolved solids. There of course could be other dangers that a TDS water meter cannot detect. But it is a safe bet that this drinking water in Phuket airport is safe to drink. As for Don Mueang airport, the jury is still out.
Visit my blog for more pictures and information.

Air Quality in Airplanes and SHA+ Transfer Vans

During my recent trip to Phuket, I also took along my CO2 meter to check on ventilation in various places. I am travelling more now and I want to give people an idea of what situations are potentially dangerous. As you probably know by now, Covid-19 is airborne and so good ventilation is important. Airplanes are generally safe. The new aircraft have a good ventilation and filtration system. Unfortunately, this is not turned on during boarding and landing and so for at least 30 minutes there is a potential danger. At the gate the CO2 reading was 939 ppm (outdoors it is around 500 ppm) and during boarding, the airplane peaked at 1442 ppm.
Compared to the flight, the SHA+ van transfer from the airport to the hotelwas potentially dangerous. CO2 levels with four people in the van peaked at 3196 ppm. At this level, you are basically breathing air that has already been in someone’s else’s lungs. If you ignore Covid-19 for a moment, any prolonged exposure to CO2 levels above 2,000 ppm will cause drowsiness and loss of concentration. I am not sure if you want a driver that has been in a vehicle all day with such high CO2 levels. I did ask him to turn off the “recirculating air” button so fresh air could come in from outside, but he flatly refused to do this. He said he didn’t want the “dust pollution” to come in. This makes me wonder exactly what a SHA+ sticker means. Is it just wiping the seats clean or is it do to with methods on how to prevent the spread of Covid-19?
If I may, I want to give you just one more example of air quality during my trip. Again, this is not a scientific study. I am just leaving it here as food for thought. In the above photos, which of the two CO2 readings would you like to wake up to in the morning? Both of the rooms had sealed windows and no balcony door. One is a hotel that uses a HVAC system that changes the air in your room every hour by bringing in filtered air from outdoors. The other is a hotel that uses a regular air-conditioner that just re-circulates the same air all night and also had a connecting door that brought in air from next door. Unfortunately, it is not possible to ask hotels in advance about their ventilation and filtration methods. But at the least, I would try and avoid rooms that have connecting doors. Maybe this is now the time to stay more at an Airbnb where it is easier to crack open a window or have a balcony door. Just a thought.

Reopening of School Campus

It has been some years since I last taught and so unlike the foreign teachers at my school who have been teaching online since May, I have been working alone in my office at school producing online content for others to use. In normal times, I can visit the computer rooms to watch our students do the quizzes that I designed for This always made me feel good to see their reaction to new quizzes and games. But these past seven months have not only been very lonely – only a handful of people went to school – but I also didn’t get any job satisfaction. So, I was really happy when our school campus reopened last week. It’s so great to hear the sound of students on campus again. And more importantly for me, I can get instant feedback for my work again when I go to watch the students during their e-learning lessons in the computer room.

Updates about Bangkok Railway Station

Some good news for people who were worried about what will happen to the historical buildings at Hua Lamphong. Local media are reporting that Bangkok Railway Station is not closing on 23rd December after all. The State Railway of Thailand will allow 11 commuter routes to continue to operate out of this station. Most of the other trains will start from Bang Sue Grand as well as from other local stations. I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure there will be a lot of confusion on the first day. Particularly as the SRT still hasn’t released the full details yet. I have bought a ticket for the sleeper train to Chiang Mai on Thursday night. At this moment in time, I am not sure which station it will leave from. Hopefully I can find out before I leave home!

Twenty Hour Boat Voyage to Songkhla

As you know, I love doing train trips. For me, it’s all about the journey and not necessarily the destination. I also like taking the opportunity to do boat trips as I think it is a great way to explore the destination. But I’ve never travelled by boat or even ship to a destination in Thailand. Which is why I am excited to be taking a boat later this month from Sattahip in Chonburi to Songkhla in Southern Thailand. At twenty hours, this is the longest ferry route in Thailand. I will be taking my car with me and will then drive back to Bangkok to compare the experience.
The Blue Dolphin, which is owned by The Seahorse Ferry, sails once a week. It leaves Sattahip at 2:00 p.m. on a Tuesday and arrives in Songkhla at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. The cost for my car, myself and a bed is 5,700 baht. According to Google Maps, the drive back is 1,000 kms. I’m not sure yet how much that will cost me. Foot passengers are 1,000 baht. To take a car is 5,000 baht but the driver and passenger go free. If you want a bed you have to pay extra. I’m going for the capsule which is 700 baht. Rooms are from 3,500 baht but are all sold out this month. 

Win a Walking Bangkok Guidebook

The competition prize this week for subscribers to my newsletter is the guidebook Walking Bangkok. Every week for the past two months, I have been giving you links to PDF downloads for maps of these 15 walks in Bangkok. But many people have been asking where to buy the book. Unfortunately, as it is now out of print, it is very difficult to find. But I have secured FIVE copies of this guidebook for five lucky subscribers.
To have a chance of winning a copy, all you have to do is send an email to [email protected]com with the subject line ‘Win a copy of Walking Bangkok’. In the body of the email, you just need to copy and paste this: “I would like to win a copy of ‘Walking Bangkok’. I live in Thailand.” As I am paying to send these out myself, your address needs to be inside Thailand. Or it can be the address of a friend or a hotel if you are not here yet. But please, don’t send your address yet. I will contact the winners after the deadline on Saturday 25th December 2021. Good luck!
The 15 walking routes are as follows:
  1. Yaowarat
  2. Nang Loeng – Khlong Phadung
  3. Thon Buri – Kudi Chin community
  4. Bang Lamphu, Wang Na and Tha Tian
  5. Sao Ching Cha, Dinso Rad, Chaopho Suea Shrine
  6. Samsen – Thewet
  7. Bang Rak – Silom
  8. Bobe Market – Ratchaprasong
  9. Bang Lamphu
  10. Old City – Phranakorn
  11. Wang Lang
  12. Yaowarat Buk Ruk Street art
  13. Khlong San – Tha Din Daeng
  14. Ban Mo – Sampheng
  15. Talat Phlu – Chom Tong

Interesting Tweets

Tha Maharaj Illumination Festival from 20th December to 6th February. Open daily from 5pm-9pm. Night boat tour is 100 baht and lasts 30 minutes. At 6:30pm, 7:30pm and 8:30pm. Illumination + Cruise Package is 220 baht.

📍MAP: #Bangkok #Thailand

According to @GoogleThailand, these are the Top 10 tourist destinations that Thais searched for during 2021:
1) Rayong
2) Chanthaburi
3) Kanchanaburi
4) Krabi
5) Chonburi
6) Phuket
7) Saraburi
8) Khao Yai
9) Phang Nga
10) Phatthalung

Christmas Star Parade in Sakon Nakhon Province from 21-26 December 2021.
🎅 21-24 December at St Michael’s Cathedral
🎅 25-26 December at St. Joseph’s School

It looks like the Immigration Bureau has a new online system for reporting place of residence every 90 days. You can register here: It was several hours before the confirmation email came back, and it was in the spam folder, but I was able to then log in.

There will be two rounds for the Mini Light & Sound show in Sukhothai Historical Park on Saturday 25th December and Saturday 8th January 2022. Registration starts at 6pm and the show starts at 7:30pm. Entry is free. #Thailand #ThaiFestival #ThailandFestival

New rules for high risk close contacts:
📌 14 day quarantine in hotel for people in families/groups. Must do 3 x RT-PCR testing on Days 0, 5-7 and 12-13
📌 10 day quarantine for sitting next to someone who tested positive on the plane. Must do 2 x RT-PCR testing on Days 0 and 5-

Bangkok Walking Maps – Part 9

This week, the Bangkok Walking Map is for Bang Lamphu which is the area around Khao San Road and to the north. If you are doing these walks and are posting your pictures on social media, please use the hashtag #walkingBKK as I would like to see what you have discovered. In all, there are fifteen of these maps to collect. There will be another free download link next week. Before I forget, in a future newsletter, I will be giving away FIVE print editions of all 15 Bangkok walking maps. These books are really difficult to find now.
  1. Yaowarat Walking Map
  2. Nang Loeng Walking Map
  3. Thonburi Walking Map
  4. Bang Lamphu, Wang Na and Tha Tian
  5. Sao Ching Cha, Dinso Road, and Chaopho Suea Shrine
  6. Samsen Thewet
  7. Bang Rak and Silom
  8. Bobe Market and Ratchaprasong
  9. Bang Lamphu
That’s all for this week for my weekly Letters from Thailand newsletter. Thanks for reading this far and I hope to see you next time. If you like this newsletter, please suggest to your friends to subscribe to it. It is 100% free. Thanks!
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This is an urgent dispatch with official updates about Test and Go as sent to me by the Consular Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As you probably have heard by now, the prime minister announced this afternoon the suspension of the Test and Go scheme. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation about this which has led to much confusion. A senior official at the Consular Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs just called me to set the record straight about what is really happening. But first I will paste below their official announcement. Then I will add my own notes from the telephone call.


Thailand Pass will be closed for all new Test and Go and Sandbox applications (except Phuket Sandbox), starting from 00.00 hrs. on 22 December 2021 until further notice.
New measures apply for all applicants on Thailand Pass, as follows; 
Applicants who have received their Thailand Pass QR Code can enter Thailand under the scheme they have registered.
Applicants who have registered, but have not received their QR Code must wait for their Thailand Pass to be considered / approved. Once approved, they can enter Thailand under the scheme they have registered.
New applicants will not be able to register for Test and Go and Sandbox measures (except Phuket Sandbox). Thailand Pass will only accept new applicants seeking to enter Thailand under Alternative Quarantine (AQ) or Phuket Sandbox only.
Passengers who will arrive in Thailand under Test and Go and Sandbox Programme must undergo their 2nd COVID-19 test using the RT-PCR technique (not ATK self-test) at government-designated facilities (no additional cost).
Thailand Pass will be closed for all new Test and Go and Sandbox applications (except Phuket Sandbox), starting from 00.00 hrs. on 22 December 2021 until further notice.
New measures apply for all applicants on Thailand Pass, as follows; 
1. Applicants who have received their Thailand Pass QR Code can enter Thailand under the scheme they have registered.
2. Applicants who have registered, but have not received their QR Code must wait for their Thailand Pass to be considered / approved. Once approved, they can enter Thailand under the scheme they have registered.
3. New applicants will not be able to register for Test and Go and Sandbox measures (except Phuket Sandbox). Thailand Pass will only accept new applicants seeking to enter Thailand under Alternative Quarantine (AQ) or Phuket Sandbox only.
4. Passengers who will arrive in Thailand under Test and Go and Sandbox Programme must undergo their 2nd COVID-19 test using the RT-PCR technique (not ATK self-test) at government-designated facilities (no additional cost).

Do Not Panic!

To be clear, this is NOT a closure of the borders. It is just a suspension of the Test & Go and the Blue Zone Sandbox (except for Phuket Sandbox) schemes. Everything else will continue as normal. 
First the good news, if you are one of 22,000 people who have already applied for a Thailand Pass for Test & Go, Sandbox and Alternative Quarantine, your application is still being processed. If your application is approved, you will be able to come under the original conditions. This means, for Test & Go people, you only need to wait for the results for the first test and then you are free to go. No 7-day quarantine like some media outlets were saying. But you will need to do a second RT-PCR test on Day 7. More on that in a moment. 
The bad news is that if your application is rejected after midnight, then you are out of luck. You will need to enter via the Phuket Sandbox or hotel quarantine schemes.
Secondly, the Thailand Pass system is still open for Test & Go applications. So, be quick as you could make it before the midnight deadline. After that time, they will no longer take applications for Test & Go and for Sandbox areas outside of Phuket.
One very important piece of information that the Thai media got wrong is the cut-off date for arriving in Thailand. Basically, there isn’t one. Earlier, the media were saying you must arrive before 10th January if you didn’t want to do quarantine. That is not true. You can arrive on the date that was approved on your application. For example, if you said you are arriving on 25th January, then you still can use Test & Go and only wait one night for the test results.
Many people were asking that if they arrived under Test & Go tomorrow, do they have to do the second RT-PCR test on Day 7. The quick answer to that is no. This is because it is not law yet. The prime minister must first sign the papers and then it must be published in the Royal Gazette. So, if it was published in the gazette on Friday, then anyone arriving on Friday onwards, must do the second test on Day 7. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this will be free. More details on this soon.
So, does this mean there is no Test & Go in the future? No, that is not true as it is just temporarily suspended. In early January, they will re-evaluate the situation and there will be a new announcement. 
If I have any further updates, I will post on my social media – Twitter and Facebook. Can I please ask you not to reply to this email with questions. I have already received two hundred emails today and I cannot keep up. Which is why I prefer to answer questions on social media where I can share the answers with everyone. Thanks for your understanding and good luck!
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Art and one’s appreciation of it must be one of the most subjective things around… I can remember when I was first introduced to painting. My father – who had been to art school, had finished a portrait of my mother, which was stunning.  I, as a five-year old said, “Who is that beautiful lady?” Which goes to prove just how subjective art is. My father had painted my mother from his heart, with all the love he had for her transferred onto the canvas by his elaborate brushstrokes. But a five-year-old boy could not equate his father’s vision with his own perception. He only saw his mother as… his mother.

When I was older I was reacquainted with this painting, and was able to see it in a different light. Yes, my mother was indeed beautiful, and had been made even more so by the portrayal of her as seen through my father’s eyes.

So, from an early age I had been introduced to art, and my love and appreciation of it has endured throughout my life. In Thailand for over three decades, as a writer or editor for several magazines, I am fortunate to have been able to follow my passion for art in the Kingdom, through having been invited to many exhibitions and galleries, and even becoming friends with some of the artists. Today I would like to introduce you to two of these souls. Two people coming from very different backgrounds, and giving us very different artistic creations to enjoy, when we visit their exhibitions or showings in galleries around town. Or even to purchase one of their pieces, to appreciate in the comfort of our own homes.

First up I would like to introduce you to Arash Groyan. Arash was born in Iran – known as Persia in ancient days in Teheran, where he studied art at university, gaining a B.A. and a Master’s. Arash told me that from a young age he had been inspired by ancient Persian mythology, which continues to stimulate him to this day, in particular from the poem Shahnameh. 

Shahnameh is an epic poem by Persian poet Ferdowsi, and can be likened to Homer’s Odyssey or Iliad, although it is considerably longer, comprising some 50,000 couplets. The influence this literary masterpiece has had on Arash can be seen in many of his paintings.

Arash Groyan is one of the best exponents in the world of painting Persian ‘miniatures’. He has, though, made Thailand his home since 2009 and says said he feels comfortable living here, he likes the feeling of freedom and easy pace of life, and has made many friends…  Thai, foreign, and those from both within and outside of the arts community. It is important, he told me, for an artist to feel comfortable in his or her surroundings, in order to encourage the creative juices to flow.

Arash said, “As an artist, I’m always active. 2020 was difficult, because of restrictions on travel and a lack of exhibitions due to the worldwide pandemic. But over the past three or four years I have participated in a number of exhibitions, both in Thailand and around the world. The highlight for me, though, has to be an exhibition in 2018, at the Louvre, Paris, that I was shown in. I sold some of my art there, too. An unforgettable moment for me to find acceptance in one of the most iconic and prestigious art museums in the world.”

I have been to several well attended exhibitions and gallery showings featuring the work of Arash and other foreign artists in Thailand. His quiet spoken demeanour as he explains about his latest pieces of artwork to the interested visitors is absorbing… he draws you into his world. But I have seen more to Arash, firsthand. Whilst being an undoubted expert at his own chosen field, Arash is also an erudite scholar. His knowledge of art surpasses all boundaries, and he surprised me, as I heard him answering questions about one of the pieces of art being shown in the gallery. The piece was not his own work, or had not even been created by one of his many friends from the arts community in Thailand. This was a painting new to him. Yet Arash was able to explain in detail about it. From the medium used, the brushstroke work, the technique, the lighting, et al. I don’t think the actual artist could have done a better job of explaining about the piece had they done it by themselves.  

Arash’ talents focus not only on miniature painting, but also include other areas such as Middle Eastern rug and carpet design, stage and set decoration, and jewellery design. Arash has also acted in several films and television series in Iran.

The arts community in Thailand is a close knit one, that I feel rewarded to have been accepted into. A friend of both myself and Arash from this eclectic grouping of talented people, is Leyla Sandshiko, hailing from Elista, not far from Moscow. She has been ferrying back and forth between Bangkok and Russia for the past eight years or so.

Leyla is a rather different kettle-of-fish to the softly spoken (yet passionate) Arash. This is a girl that stands out in a crowd! Diminutive she may be, but her colourful clothing with matching accessories, energetic selfie-taking, and seeming ability to be in two or three places at the same time make her an unmissable focal point of whichever gathering you see her at.

Leyla told me her academic background is very different from that of Arash, studying finance and accounting, following in the footsteps of her mother and father, and other family members who worked in the financial sector for the government, However, it was also her parents who infused her with a love of art. They took her along with them to art museums and galleries, which she loved, and never missed an opportunity to go to. Her mother and father also bought works of art for their home, so Leyla grew up surrounded by paintings, sculptures and other artistic ephemera. After a few years of working in the business sector as an accountant Leyla decided that the rather sombre world of  account ledgers and numbers was not really for her. Which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows her.

Leyla is a bundle of energy, and always stands out in her apparel wherever she goes. After leaving the financial world, she embraced her creative energies and entered the world of exhibition management. She put on events in Moscow and its surrounds that were memorable for their inventiveness, Being at the forefront of these exhibitions gave Leyla another opportunity to showcase her creative skills, Most of the clothes she wore to the opening parties were her own design. They were loud, colourful, wild, and original… as is their designer. The influential people attending the exhibitions put on by Leyla took notice of her clothing designs, and it was not long before Leyla was making money from sales of her clothing, her designs, and accessories to go with them. She had also found time to create her own art. Unsurprisingly she favours the abstract genre. She told me that when she is in the throes of creating her artwork (usually in the hours of darkness) she goes into another zone, and does not really know what she is doing. In the morning, when she wakes up, she is often surprised at what she sees on the canvases. ‘Bloody hell… where did that come from,’ she thinks.

When she came to Thailand eight years ago she naturally gravitated towards the arts community in Bangkok, and was soon a regular at art show openings, where she quickly made friends, and was soon being invited to more and more openings. She has also had several solo and group exhibitions of her own at galleries around Bangkok. The latest exhibition was in Bangkok in January, called ‘Counterpunch 2’. Leyla became interested in Muay Thai, after coming to live in Thailand and she says that studying and training in the Thai martial art has given her a new lease of life, and even more energy. 

Leyla explained, “The main message of this series of artworks is to never give up! Be strong! Find your passion and follow it. Be free and do what you love and what brings you joy. Never worry what others might think about you. Even if you feel completely broken, stand up over and over again and follow your dreams. Create instead of destroying. Remember that there is always a way out of any problem, always!”

In the annus horribilis of 2020 the art world, the leisure sector, and even the business sectors were sent reeling, thanks to the global spread of Covid-19. Hopefully in 2021 we will start to see a recovery. Things will not be back to normal anytime soon, but there are a few things to look forward to. 

Arash did not let the extra free time he found himself with in 2020 go to waste. He worked on his art, and this year he will be having two group exhibitions in Bangkok, and another exhibition in October at the Louvre. He is also developing teaching courses in Bangkok, working on his jewellery designs, and completing the production of his painting training video courses.

But the thing I am most looking forward to is the collaboration between these people of two very different personalities and artistic styles. 

Leyla and Arash have become firm friends. Leyla is going to unleash her wild spirit onto a few canvases, and no one knows what will come out of that, leastwise herself. She will then give her canvases to Arash, who will interpose his own Persian miniature artwork within the free spaces of Leyla’s abstract designs. Arash and Leyla (and myself) are both excited to see what comes out of this idea of Arash’s, as it’s a juxtaposition of styles that has never been tried before. Look out for it in early April, at a gallery near you. Check out Arash’ website, or the Facebook page of Leyla for showtime. Hope to see you there!

[email protected], @Lolis2001
FB: Leyla Sandshiko 

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(Credit: Reuters)

COP26 speech, Tuvalu, November 2021

Addressing the UN climate conference in Glasgow, the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe stood in a suit at a lectern thigh-deep in seawater to demonstrate how rising sea levels and the accelerating climate crisis threaten his low-lying nation. “We will not stand idly by,” Kofe insisted, “as the water rises around us.” The striking image and his anxious words called to mind a whole history of images of figures and communities imperilled by the whim of waves and water, from Jan Asselijn’s terrifying painting The Breach of the Saint Anthony’s Dike near Amsterdam (which reconstructs the catastrophic tide that struck the Dutch coast in the wee hours of 5 March 1651) to German digital artist Kota Ezawa’s 2011 computer-generated work The Flood, inspired by media images of high water sinking neighbourhoods in the deep south of America.

(Credit: Alamy)

Sculpture, Italy, 2021

A witty photo allegedly depicting the invention of the lateral flow test went viral on social media in November. The cast reconstruction of a group of sculptures from the 1st-Century villa of Tiberius in Sperlonga, Italy, needless to say portrays something very different from present-day Covid swabbing: the blinding of the Cyclops Polyphemus, who had trapped Odysseus and his party in a cave. According to the legend, Odysseus eventually manages to ply Polyphemus (who had eaten several pairs of the epic hero’s entourage) with “undiluted” wine before lancing his single eye with a sharpened spear. Anyone who has self-administered the lateral flow test and accidentally probed a little deeper than they’d intended may feel Polyphemus got off lightly.

(Credit: Alamy)

US Air Force plane, Kabul airport, August 2021

When the Taliban entered the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 15 August, a US Air Force plane, bound for Qatar, became the last hope for evacuation from the city for many Afghans. Photos of hundreds of desperate people flooding the ramp of the C-17 Globemaster III plane were among the most dramatic captured this year. The unfathomable crush (estimated to have been between 640 and 830 adults and children) managed to make the claustrophobic vision of contemporary Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz’s recent sculpture Angels Unawares – a 20-foot-tall bronze boat crammed with displaced souls – seem commodious by comparison. Unveiled by Pope Francis in September 2019 on the Vatican’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the work takes its name from a moral instruction in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

(Credit: Getty Images)

Astronauts, Israel, 2021

A pair of astronauts stride side-by-side in spacesuits during a training mission for Mars at the Ramon Crater in Israel’s Negev desert. The world’s largest “makhtesh” (a type of erosion depression that is not formed by the impact of a meteor or the eruption of a volcano), the heart-shaped canyon served as the surreal retreat for six astronauts from Austria, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. The crew was only allowed to explore the desolate terrain in spacesuits, to approximate conditions they’ll face on Mars. Photos of the alien simulation captured the world’s imagination and appeared to portray not so much a physical realm in our own solar system than a lonely and luminous soulscape – a metaphysical elsewhere like those imagined by the French avant-garde artist Yves Tanguy

(Credit: Getty Images)

Protesters, Scotland, November 2021

During the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November, activists from the Ocean Rebellion group demonstrated outside the INEOS integrated refinery and petrochemicals centre plant in Grangemouth, Scotland. Self-dubbed “Oil Heads”, for their use of plastic petrol jugs as grotesque masks, the campaigners dramatically spat oil and flung fake cash to lampoon the behaviour of investors and politicians who, they contend, are acting too slowly in their pledge to end deforestation by 2030. The crude image is viscerally effective, and calls to mind a notable leitmotif in works of contemporary art by artists calling attention to the deleterious impact on the environment caused by man, a tradition that stretches from the late Japanese artist Noriyuki Haraguchi’s Oil Pool (a long-running series that began in the 1970s) to Ai Weiwei’s more recent Oil Spills, 2006.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Diver, China, January 2021

In January, a woman was photographed diving from a plinth of ice rising from a frigid lake in Shenyang, in northeastern China’s Liaoning province. Frozen above the bitter water’s glassy surface, she remains forever suspensefully suspended – neither part of time nor outside it, weightless nor heavy. The heroic horizontality of her body rhymes with the measured stretch of snowy path or bank that splits the photo into equal parts earth and air. To the eyes of many, the severity of the environment and discomfort that eternally awaits the swimmer makes her pendulous plunge as inconceivable as swan-diving towards a street from an urban ledge – a feat the French artist Yves Klein claimed he did from a Parisian window in 1960. Recreating the toe-curling lunge, Klein hired a couple of photographers to help him stage a series of images he called “Leap into the Void“, which capture a body stretched out mid-air in a posture very similar to that of the Chinese diver.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Girl, Gaza, May 2021

In the bloodiest escalation of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians since 2014, air strikes unleashed by the former (in retaliation for a rocket fired from Hamas) ripped open the home of a little girl in Beit Hanoun, Gaza on 24 May. The image of the girl – standing barefoot amongst rebar and rubble, gazing at her shattered horizon – is heart-breaking. The incongruity in such a scene of a stuffed bunny, who stares upside-down at the upside-down world, brought to mind British artist Paula Rego’s 2003 painting, War, which is itself based on a media photograph of a young girl, taken during the traumas of the Iraq war. In Rego’s raw vision, the rabbit – conventionally a symbol of innocence and rebirth in art history – is poignantly recast as a menacing mask of anguish. In the image from Gaza, no reinterpretation of the horror is necessary.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Lake, Serbia, 2021

The photo of a grotesque glacier of garbage clogging the Lim river near the city of Priboj in the Western Balkans, is breathtakingly grim. A convergence of relaxed waste management measures, an escalation in illegal dumping, and floods in the region – which helped carry the rubbish to a single spot – was to blame. The incongruity of the dense debris in an otherwise pristine landscape calls to mind the unsettling vision of the contemporary Cuban artist Tomás Sánchez, who reimagined the site of Christ’s crucifixion outside Jerusalem in his 1994 painting Al sur del Calvario (South of Calvary). A muckscape of unrecycled trash, Sánchez’s painting suggests salvation is as much a material slog through worldly sludge as it is an arduous spiritual journey.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Boy, Indonesia, 2021

An eight-year-old boy begs on the streets of Depok, Indonesia. His skin is covered in a toxic concoction of metallic paint and cooking oil that transforms his body into a kind of burnished sculpture. Aldi is among a group of people known as Manusia Silver (or “Silver Men”) who resort to this dangerous disguise in order to attract alms. The image of Aldi, glimmering amid the steely ooze of traffic on a congested city street, is especially affecting. For many boys Aldi’s age, robots are talismans of wonder – a theme that invigorates Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi’s ink-and-gouache enhanced photograph Wonder Boy, 1971, which imagines a boy merging with the magic of his toy robot. In Paolozzi’s photo, the two dissolve into the same shimmery substance. The image of Aldi, however, tragically subverts that childlike instinct to lose oneself in play.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Capitol riot, US, January 2021

Photos of supporters of Donald Trump violently clashing with Capitol Police in the Rotunda of the US Capitol on 6 January shocked the world. The pro-Trump trespassers were protesting the certification of Joe Biden as President-elect. It may come as a surprise to some that the image of Americans at each others’ throats is part of the very fabric of the space. Outside the frame of this photo, behind the cameraman who took it, a sandstone relief sculpture by the 18th-Century Italian sculptor Enrico Causici depicts the colonising frontiersman Daniel Boone locked in hand-to-hand combat with a Native American. The crumpled body of another lies beneath their feet. The merits of the work – aesthetic and moral – are as likely to provoke polarising opinion these days as the events of 6 January.

(Credit: Alamy)

Capitol riot, US, January 2021

Photos of supporters of Donald Trump violently clashing with Capitol Police in the Rotunda of the US Capitol on 6 January shocked the world. The pro-Trump trespassers were protesting the certification of Joe Biden as President-elect. It may come as a surprise to some that the image of Americans at each others’ throats is part of the very fabric of the space. Outside the frame of this photo, behind the cameraman who took it, a sandstone relief sculpture by the 18th-Century Italian sculptor Enrico Causici depicts the colonising frontiersman Daniel Boone locked in hand-to-hand combat with a Native American. The crumpled body of another lies beneath their feet. The merits of the work – aesthetic and moral – are as likely to provoke polarising opinion these days as the events of 6 January.

(Credit: Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021)

Ever Given container ship, Egypt, March 2021

When a colossal cargo ship jammed itself sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal in spring 2021, the world, like global shipping traffic itself, suddenly stopped in its tracks. Travelling from China to the Netherlands, the Ever Given ship had been lugging 20,000 shipping containers when it wedged whopper-jawed near the southern end of the canal early on 23 March. With its stern stuck against the western wall and its bow buried deep in the sandy eastern side, the ginormous ship wasn’t going anywhere. Photos of a diminutive digger attempting to free the vast vehicle inspired many a mirthful meme and brought to mind famous farcical images of miniature muscle determined, David-v-Goliath style, to defeat a mammoth problem, such as a 15th-Century tempera-and-gold illustration from a Book of Hours by the anonymous Flemish illuminator known as “The Master of the Dresden Prayer Book”.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Boy, Kenya, 2021

In November, the winners of the Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021 were revealed. In the Climate Action category, a photo of a young boy attached surreally, via face mask and respirator, to a potted plant standing beside him like an oxygen tank, prevailed. A powerful meditation on the trajectory of environmental damage, The Last Breath by Kevin Ochieng Onyango was photographed in Nairobi, Kenya. The image not only looks forward into our uncertain future but back into art history, absorbing and subverting influential works from the past. The fragility and preciousness of breath recalls themes that invigorate such works as Joseph Wright of Derby’s 18th-Century masterpiece Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump (informed by the recent discovery of oxygen by Joseph Priestley) and Italian artist Piero Manzoni’s conceptual work from 1960, Artist’s Breath, for which Manzoni attempted to preserve forever his breath in a red balloon. The friction between Manzoni’s intention for the work (“When I blow up a balloon,” he once insisted, “I am breathing my soul into an object that becomes eternal”) and the eventual fate of his balloons – which have long since deflated and decomposed – speaks, however breathlessly, to the poignancy of Onyango’s haunting image.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Painting, France, October 2021

The photo of French firefighters raising a fireproof blanket to protect one of the many treasures in the Saint-Andre cathedral during a drill in Bordeaux, France, in October, was itself a work of art. The painting at the heart of the image was created by the 17th-Century Flemish master Jacob Jordaens and depicts an agonisingly crucified Christ jabbed by long skewers fitted with vinegar-soaked sponges, against a thickening gloom. The ladders that flank the canvas align themselves with tropes of ascent and descent depicted in the painting, and transform the work into something curiously kinetic – a vision that is neither wholly real nor imagined, spiritual nor quotidian. The leaning props connect us to the past and incline our imagination to the many-runged tradition of works whose levels of meaning are measured along the angled length of rising ladders, from the so-called Ladder of Divine Ascent (a late 12th-Century icon in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai), which portrays monks climbing towards Jesus, to the French-American contemporary artist Louise Bourgeois’s series of drawings The Ladders, through which she constructs a characteristically ambiguous personal symbol – at once precarious and uplifting.

Children, Ethiopia, July 2021

In July a group of children were photographed standing under a tree on the site of a future camp for Eritrean refugees, near the village of Dabat, northeast of the city of Gondar, Ethiopia. A threadbare scarf of mist enveloping the scene gave the image a mythic quality. The living shelter provided by the lyrical canopy of leaves and the imagined music of its stationary rustle brought to mind myriad examples in cultural history of Trees of Life – a theme that has inspired everyone from the ancient Uratrians, for whom the tree figured as an important religious emblem, to the Viennese Art Nouveau artist Gustav Klimt, who winds the branches of his poetic Tree of Life into symbolic spirals – coils of a spiritual engine that whirr into eternity.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Health workers, India, October 2021

To mark the administration in India of the one billionth dose of vaccine against the coronavirus, four members of the nursing staff at the Ramaiah Hospital in Bangalore posed in October for a photograph in the guise of the widely-revered Goddess Durga (associated with strength and protection), who is typically depicted with many arms, each wielding a weapon with which she skilfully defeats her enemies. It is not the first time that Durga, a major Hindu deity credited with combating evil forces, has been invoked during the pandemic. A year earlier, in October 2020, images of a six-foot sculpture of Durga, which the Indian artist Sanjib Basak had fashioned from discarded injection vials and the blister packs of out-of-date medicine strips, went viral on social media. Emerging from a heap of hospital waste – the detritus of discomfort and disease – Basak’s sculpture sounded an unexpectedly hopeful note in the face of anguish and adversity.

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