04 April 2008

33 Bird's Condo (คอนโดนกนางแอ่น)

Last February, because of a family matter, I had to go down south of Thailand, Nakorn Sri Thammarat where the hometown of my father is. Every year, my family goes to make a small ceremony for our grand parents at the main temple of the city - Wat Prasrirattana Mahatat. But originally my father is from a small town, 20 km.s from the city, called Pak Phanang. It used to be one of the most prosperous places in Thailand, because of rice cultivation.

I did not visit Pak Phanang for more than 10 years. This time I had a chance to be there for one afternoon to visit some relatives. Surprisingly the whole city is completely transformed into a city of 'Bird's Condo' (Bird's Condominium). :O Here are some of the 'condos'.

For those who are not used to Chinese cusine, bird's nest soup is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. A few species of swift, the cave swifts, are renowned for building the saliva nests used to produce the unique texture of this soup. The edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. The nests have been traditionally used in Chinese cooking for over 400 years, most often as bird's nest soup. (Thanks to the information and images of bird's nest from www.wikipedia.com).

This is the soup and the dry bird's nest before cooking.

The bird's nest package selling in a shop. You can see from the price tag how expensive it is. A bowl of Bird Nest Soup would cost US$10 to $100 in Chinatown Bangkok. A kilogram of white nest can cost up to $2,000, and a kilogram of “red blood” nest can cost up to $US 10,000.

There is another modern version of bird's nest consumption. Brand's health products offer several kinds of ready-to-eat bird's nest in a small bottle. It is one of the most successful health products in Thailand. People would associate with a traditional Chinese medicine.

Here is the nest with the swifts.

Usually the swifts would make their nests in the high cave, oftenly on remote islands, which is very dangerous to harvest. To get the right to harvest bird's nest is very competitive. The overall system of harvesting the bird's nest is extremely complicated and required even a bunch of security guards to keep the nest from theives. The nest is so expensive that sometimes it is called 'the titanium of the sea'. :O

Since in the past 20 years, the consumption of the bird's nest has gone sky rocketing. There are 'artificial' bird's caves or bird's houses attracting the swifts to live there... In the case of Pak Phanang, where I visited, according to my cousin who is the local there, some years ago, swifts began to live in an old house in the town, finally the the owner left the house for the swifts and collected the nests as their main income - of course, they became rich. Since then, people in Pak Phanang believe that their town is perhaps the place where the swifts like, many of them invested in building or transforming their house into the bird's condo. As you can see here, the few lower floors are where people live, while the upper, the birds do.

Usually the birds do not like too much sunlight, so there is almost no openning on the wall of the buildings... The birds would get in from above.

I tried to get inside one of the condos to take some pictures, but it was prohibited. Because the birds are very sensitive to strangers, they might move their whole inhabitant if they smell strangers... But according to my cousin, again, inside these buildings are very dark and humid, like a high cave. The whole 5-6 storey space are more or less empty without any floor, there are some wooden structure similar to scaffolding system where the birds could lay their nests on. The sound is also very important element to attract the swifts, usually they would install an sound system that supposed to call the birds in.

Some of them look like an apartment housing. :O Imagine.. the whole city is full of these buildings....

This gigantic one, very rough, very Ando's like.

There are various forms and styles of these bird's condo. Some are very simple, some are highly decorative.

This one is next to Pak Phanang river and market. Very decorative one.

The left image is the one I like the most. It is very simple and clean building, with small ornaments of three flying horses at the corner. The right image shows the very simple details of small holes for ventilations of the condo by very common blue plastic pipe.

Another one across the river of Pak Phanang.. they are all over the place...

At the market, I found this shop, a kind of bird's nest center. On the glass wall, it is written that this Pak Phanang Bird's Nest shop buys and sells bird's nest, offers a design and build service of bird's condo, installs the sound system and everything related to bird's nest business. A little remark here that the overall atmosphere and decoration of the shop is pretty much similar to a gold shop... perhaps the bird's nest is even more expensive than gold. :O

According to my cousin, the local, again, there are around 200-300 bird's condo around the town of Pak Phanang. The building costs between 2-3 millions Bahts (60,000-10,000 $US) to 10-15 millions Bahts (300,000-500,000 $US). However, only 10% of them are inhabited by the swifts. The rest are trying hard to attrack the birds... Maybe this is the time when architects should step in --> how to transform the uninhabitated bird's condo into something else. How can we imagine that Chinese cusine delicacy would cause such a problem? Shall we do a workshop? :)


urbanomania said...

Thank you for sharing krab.
This one is really interesting.
Oh, my father is from there as well. :)

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