Thailand’s Mr. Bean plays jails for laughs

Mongkol Preechajan interacts with prison inmates as the popular British TV comedy character Mr. Bean in the central Thai province of Nakhon Nayok. (AFP)
Updated 15 February 2018
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Thailand’s Mr. Bean plays jails for laughs

NAKHON NAYOK, Thailand: With the signature red tie, brown blazer, briefcase and teddy bear, a Thai computer technician has become a national sensation through his uncanny Mr. Bean impersonations that are tickling a country that loves slapstick comedy.
Mongkol PreecHajjan, a 43-year-old father from Phuket with more than a passing resemblance to the British character played by Rowan Atkinson, shot to fame after trying out the miming routine on the popular “Thailand’s Got Talent” TV show in 2016.
The video went viral — one YouTube clip has been watched over five million times — turning Mongkol into an overnight celebrity in a country where Mr. Bean is among the most popular foreign comic turns, in part because his speechless routines cut through language barriers.
Now Mongkol tours Thailand performing sketches and posing for selfies as the famously buffoonish character.
Mongkol said his fascination with Mr. Bean started as a teenager, when he became a fan of the British show and the character’s “cheeky and cute personality.”
He has since spent hours twisting his face and arching his eyebrows in front of a mirror to hone Mr. Bean’s trademark expressions.
“It’s quite hard because Mr. Bean doesn’t speak and only communicates through his facial expressions and his body movements — that was really hard to practice,” Mongkol said.
In addition to Bangkok comedy gigs and TV spots, the newfound celebrity is also performing at jails around the country in a bid to brighten up prison life.
A recent performance brought him to Nakhon Nayok province, where hundreds of inmates roared with laughter as he jittered around the stage with his iconic teddy bear.
“There were a lot of laughs,” one inmate said after the show. “It has lightened up the mood here a lot.”


Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

Updated 23 May 2018
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Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

  • Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish
  • Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy

KABUL: One of the only Qur’ans ever made from silk fabric has been completed in Afghanistan — a feat its creators hope will help preserve the country’s centuries-old tradition of calligraphy.
Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish.
Bound in goat leather and weighing 8.6 kilograms, the Qur’an was produced by Afghan artisans, many of them trained at British foundation Turquoise Mountain in Kabul.
“Our intention was to ensure that calligraphy does not die out in this country — writing is part of our culture,” Khwaja Qamaruddin Chishti, a 66-year-old master calligrapher, said in a cramped office inside Turquoise Mountain’s labyrinthine mud-brick and wood-paneled complex.
With the Qur’an considered a sacred text, calligraphy is highly venerated in Islam and Islamic art.
“When it comes to art we cannot put a price on it. God has entrusted us with this work (the Qur’an) ... and this means more to us than the financial aspect,” Chishti continued.
Using a bamboo or reed ink pen, Chishti and his fellow calligraphers spent up to two days carefully copying Qur’anic verses onto a single page — sometimes longer if they made a mistake and had to start again.
They used the Naskh script, a calligraphic style developed in early Islam to replace Kufic because it was easier to read and write.
The decoration around the script, known as illumination, was more time-consuming, each page taking more than a week to complete.
A team of artists used paint made from natural materials, including ground lapis, gold and bronze, to recreate the delicate patterns popular during the Timurid dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries in the western city of Herat.
“All the colors we have used are from nature,” Mohammad Tamim Sahibzada, a master miniature artist who was responsible for creating the vibrant colors used in the Qur’an, said.
Sahibzada said working on silk fabric for the first time was challenging. The locally sourced material — all 305 meters (1,000 feet) of it — was treated in a solution made from the dried seeds of ispaghula, or psyllium, to stop the ink from spreading.
Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy.
It hopes the silk Qur’an will generate demand for more handmade Islamic religious texts that could create employment for its artisans and help finance the institute.
“We will show it to other Islamic countries to see if it is possible to create job opportunities for graduates to work on another Qur’an,” said Abdul Waheed Khalili, the organization’s Afghan director.
For now, it will be kept in a specially made hand-carved walnut wooden box to protect its delicate pages from the elements at Turquoise Mountain’s offices, which are in the restored Murad Khani, a historic commercial and residential area in Kabul’s oldest district.
There Turquoise Mountain has trained thousands of artisans with the support of Britain’s Prince Charles, the British Council, and USAID.
“The copying of the Qur’an onto silk is very rare,” country director Nathan Stroupe said.
He said the project has been “an amazing way to train our students at an incredibly high level in a very traditional type of work.”
“If a book collector in London... was interested in it, we would be thinking in the $100,000 to $200,000 (price) range,” he added.