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Spotted: An Obama-Themed Bar in the Thai Hinterlands

Discovered in a Northeast Thai town so tiny it's not on the map: a bar with the most confounding name ever.

Oh! Bar Mark: Chill Restaurant

I'm not exactly sure how to process this, so let's dissect it slowly.

I was returning from an assignment on the Thai-Lao border with photojournalist Pailin Wedel, also a Global Post contributor. The sign appeared just after we passed through a rural crossroads outside a town called Kalasin.

How rural? This was the view, minutes before, out of my driver's side window:

 

This is a countryside region where most bars decorate with twinkling Christmas lights and buffalo skulls. That fits my refined sense of style just fine, just so you know. But it's not a place where you typically encounter Obama-inspired wordplay.

Back to the sign. I am reasonably convinced that the title is an Obama-related play on words. I am less sure who "Mark" is.

It's possibly alluding to the prime minister of Thailand -- real name: Abhisit Vejjajiva -- who adopted the name "Mark" while studying at Oxford University. The name stuck and now the Thai press is hooked on calling him "Mark." And occasionally, the tongue-in-cheek "Oh-Bah-Mark."

But this adds an extra layer of confusion: "Mark" and his Democrat Party are none too popular in this rugged, rice-farming region. To indulge in stereotypes, many rural Thais regard their Oxford-schooled premier as effete and privileged.

It doesn't help that his name, Abhisit, literally means "privilege" in Thai. This is not Mark country.

But, as I learned growing up in mill-town southern America, small-town folks are too often pigeonholed as simple and predictable. Our capacity for unexpected weirdness is not to be underestimated. So maybe the bar owner loves both "Obama" and "Mark" and went for it. Which is sort of like a rural Arkansas bar owner naming his joint after Obama and, say, the Queen of England.

Or maybe Mark is just a misplaced foreigner. Who likes to open bars with quirky names in the Thai hinterlands.

We'll never know. Because when I pulled into the parking lot to check it out, all I saw was a veterinarian's office and a drug store.

Oh well. Maybe it's more fun to not know.

P.S. To my Thailand readers, I think the town's name is Song Bleui (สงเปลือย). If anyone knows the story behind this place, please comment.

P.S.S. Bonus Obama-themed signage, spotted about this time last year by the Northeast rice fields.

That reads, "FRESH COFFEE - STRONG!!"

 

http://www.globalpost.com/notebook/thailand/091017/spotted-obama-themed-bar-the-thai-hinterlands