"A TOUCH of Thai - A Cultural Event" is the most recent addition to the slate of local festivals built on the idea that nothing brings home the beauty of a society as does the chance to see it through a personal introduction - whether its roots as a culture reach back just a few decades or span centuries.
The first installment of this celebration will be held from noon to 5 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 29 on the expansive lawn at Oglebay Institute's Stifel Fine Arts Center on National Road in Wheeling. Proceeds from the event will benefit arts and cultural programming at Stifel.
Thailand is often called the "land of smiles," not only because visitors love its natural beauty and historical riches, but also because of the country's friendly people and fascinating culture, according to event founder Pom Tse, a native of Bangkok, Thailand.
Tse promises an "afternoon of smiles" at the Stifel Fine Arts Center as people get a glimpse of the sights, sounds and tastes that accompany travelers as they move through Thailand.
The afternoon's schedule for "A Touch of Thai" has been designed with an eye toward making sure all age groups of guests attending the new event can easily find something entertaining and memorable among a carefully selected slate of opportunities designed to immerse guests in some of the most universally appealing aspects of the Thai culture: both modern and ancient.
Thailand's ability to showcase much of its dramatically diverse cultural heritage offers something of interest for everyone, according to Tse.
Under Tse's guidance, organizers have been making every effort to reflect the importance of maintaining a sense of balance in the society's ancient history as well.
The afternoon's festivities are being built on Tse's personal passion for sharing the beauty of her ancestral homeland and its culture with others; particularly with those who call the Ohio Valley home today - as do Tse and her husband, Martin Tse, a native of Hong Kong, China.
"I wanted to bring something here, something beautiful of my country - of Thailand - to share with everyone here," she said.
Deciding to hold the celebration was not the truly challenging part of this process for its organizers. The most difficult aspect of planning the new cultural event was determining which topics would hold the greatest appeal for area residents.
"'A Touch of Thai,' as an experience will provide the public with a first-hand look at life in Thailand today," she reflected.
Tse and her husband, Martin Tse, a native of Hong Kong, have long considered the Ohio Valley region their home as well. Both are graduates of what is now West Liberty University. They own two popular local restaurants: Golden Chopsticks on Wheeling Island and Silver Chopsticks in the Elm Grove section of the city.
Each year Tse tries to find the time to set aside for a trip to Thailand to reconnect with family and friends there.
"A Touch of Thai" offers a mixture of delicious Thai dishes, handicrafts such as silks and jewelry and live entertainment including cultural dances and Muay Thai kickboxing, aiming to create the atmosphere of this southeast Asian country in the Stifel Center.
"I wanted to do something new and different - something we haven't seen in Wheeling before," she said. "I think people will enjoy these new experiences and new tastes."
In recent years, traditional Thai cuisine has enjoyed a steady increase in popularity in communities large and small across this nation and has become a staple in many communities across this country as a result, offered Tse.
"I think one of the things people will enjoy most about the event will be the chance to enjoy authentically prepared Thai food," she said, noting the cuisine is considered among the most popular of culinary traditions enjoyed today in restaurants of all sizes in communities across this vast nation.
Traditionally, Thai food is packed almost to overflowing with flavor, often offering texturally rich dishes which can readily be expected to bring a sense of adventure to almost any dining experience.
The traditional spicy-sweet-salty-sour cuisine is exploding in popularity with thousands of Thai restaurants popping up across the U.S.
Nine dishes will be served buffet-style at the celebration from noon 1:30 p.m.
Among the selections include shrimp and papaya salad, chicken with yellow curry sauce and pad thai, the best known and most popular of all Thai noodle dishes, shared Tse.
In addition, cooking demonstrations throughout the afternoon will reveal the secrets of Thai cuisine for those looking to recreate their favorite delicacy at home.
However, one of the key highlights of the afternoon's full schedule is a demonstration of the elements of one of the most popular of traditional Thai pastimes readily enjoyed by residents in communities all across Thailand: Muay Thai Kickboxing.
The sport is now famous worldwide, having directly benefitted from the growing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting, which features numerous Muay Thai techniques.
Fighters such as Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua, Paul Daley, and Diego Sanchez, are just a few of the fighters known for their Thai boxing skills.
Muay Thai demonstrations will take place at 1:45 p.m. and at 3:15 p.m., and will be conducted by Muay Thai Grand Master Lek of Ohio.
In addition to demonstrations, Master Lek will discuss the history of Muay Thai, its cultural significance and explain the ritual movements fighters engage in prior to matches to purify the spirit, improve sportsmanship and pay homage to the art of Muay Thai.
Traditional cultural dance demonstrations will be shared with guests at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Leading those aspects of the afternoon's programs will be Thai Classical Dancer Wannarat Techatanalai.
"A troupe of classical Thai dancers on hand for this rich cultural exchange will be asking guests to join in the activities by accepting spontaneous invitations to try their hand at the intricately choreographed dances.
"These dancers are very skilled,most having started their studies of thai ancient art form as young children," shared Tse, who had studied these dance techniques while a student in the Thai school system.
Techatanalai and her husband will also display and sell Thai jewelry, silks and antiques throughout the day.
Prasit Lohsiri of Far East Travel, Inc. will be available to answer questions for those interested in visiting Thailand. He will show travel DVDs and have brochures and travel packets available.
Tickets for the public event are $10 in advance and $12 at the door and are available at Golden Chopsticks Restaurant on Wheeling Island or at the Stifel Fine Arts Center. For more information, call 304.242.7700.
Event sponsors include Pepsi Cola, Wine & Beverage Merchants of West Virginia, Jacob & Sons Wholesale Meats and Gordon Food Service.