Saturday, January 20, 2007

Lost and loving it


One of the top things to do in the City of Angels is to get a Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok, go to Chinatown and get lost.

LAST Sunday, on a hot afternoon, a 68-year-old American found herself lost, looking for the Bangrak Museum, which was listed in “as this year’s most special find”.

“I remembered the address from the website but I couldn’t find it,” related the Californian. “If I had my map (Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok), it would have been easy to find.”

Well, even Nancy Chandler needs the Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok (alias the Market Map and Much More) to find her way in the labyrinth of the Thai capital.

Nancy doesn’t mind getting lost, however.

For her, it’s an adventure. She’s the type of person who would explore a soi (Thai for lane) if she sees something interesting at the end of it.

The artist probably found herself in the graphic art business when she got lost in the Sanam Luang weekend market during her early Bangkok days when she relocated to Thailand in 1969.

“Maybe at the back of my mind, I thought there should be a better map of this place,” she recalled.

In 1974, Nancy was a one-woman business producing cards and maps, and it grew to a 14-person team led by her 30-something daughter Nima.

Since 1997, Nima has been doing most of her research for the maps while her California-based mother, who visits Thailand for two months every year, draws the images.

Over the years, the Nancy Chandler name has become synonymous with maps of Thailand (Bangkok 23rd edition and Chiang Mai 16th edition). Both editions are must-haves for tourists and residents.

One of the top things to do in the City of Angels, according to the Thai Airways in-flight magazine Sawasdee, is to get a Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok, go to Chinatown and get lost.

The maps, Nima was told by some people, were “too colourful, too cluttered with so many things on it”.

And she told them: “Walk down that soi and tell me that it is not. They are all colourful; they are all cluttered with little shops everywhere.”

The Nancy Chandler’s hand-lettered detailed guides are not your usual “male-oriented, straight line, driving kind of map”.

Her maps introduce off-the-beaten-track kind of places like Wong’s, which is a Bangkok joint “for lovers of old-time rock n roll”.

“Our maps are more personal than the average maps. We tell you where you can find a very good noodle shop,” Nancy said.

The map company is able to dish out personal opinion as it refuses to accept advertising or “tea money”.

Its Bangkok map indicates the city’s usual suspect of attractions (Jim Thompson’s house, Wat Phra Kaew, Siam Paragon shopping mall and Chatuchak weekend market).

And it also reveals – in Nancy’s words – “something that tourists wouldn’t normally know about when reading a guidebook”.

Something out of the way such as the Bangrak Museum (Bangkok Folk Museum) which is an “old home, displaying the artefacts of daily life in the past”.

Or, in a soi in old Bangkok which you think is a dead-end lane but there’s “the small but very quaint Arun Residence, offering five rooms overlooking the river and Wat Arun”.

Nancy encourages tourists to get lost in the streets of Bangkok.

“If you look out of the window, all you see are high-rise buildings. You could be in Hong Kong or Singapore,” she said, pointing at the window in her Bangkok office.

“But using a good map with walking instructions, you can grasp the essence of Bangkok.”

The city’s essence, according to the artist, is chaos in terms of city planning. Next to a skyscraper, she said, will be a little hovel which houses a tailor shop.

“It is like you throw everything into a pot and you stir it and you pour it out. That’s sort of Bangkok’s charm,” she noted.

The easiest place to get lost in Bangkok used to be Chatuchak. Now, Nancy revealed, it’s Siam Paragon. “It’s huge. I’ve got lost there,” she said, laughing.

Personally, the mapmaker does not like the new malls, as “usually they have to chop off old buildings to build them”.

“It is a place where most people get lost but we’re not going to do a map on it,” she said.

(Published in The Star on Jan 20, 2007)