Market day in Moni

This post is dedicated to David, who is a fan of the Asian market experience ;-)

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Moni is a tiny village serving as “base camp” for trips to the famous colour-changing Kelimutu lakes. On Mondays, people from the nearby mountain villages as well as the seaside fishing settlements come to trade fish, vegetables, fruits, and general household items. Definitely no supermarkets around here. But everything is super fresh, and you definitely won’t get sick of pesticide overdose here.

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I wonder how many years before these handmade ikat sarongs and blankets, which take weeks to to weave, will be completely replaced by cheap Chinese junk.

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For half a day, the village is complete chaos and mayhem. Not really for lack of space, more like lack of common sense, they also block the main road of the island as well. Way too many people in way little space. But it’s a nice experience. Even a shabby place like this is exploding with colours. The thing I miss the most now that I had to come back to Europe after 12 years of Asia. All those colours…..

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Black, gold, red

When I first went to Luang Prabang in 2003, I didn’t have a camera. There I was, surrounded by black, gold, red, glitter, the November full moon festivities, dragon boats, a million candles, and I couldn’t take a single picture. So I had to go back for years later. And then, I lost my photos, only to be recovered almost by accident, three years later. It was a long wait. Many full moons have come and gone, and I’ve travelled a lot since, but if I look back at the pictures now, the simple, humble wooden temples still shine.

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I believe all of these photos are from the most famous one, Wat Xieng Thong, at the bank of the mighty Khong, where the naga king resides. I hope in a lucky moment it is still possible to have it all to yourself. Except for the resident monks, of course.

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Sandcastles for new year

If you google Thai new year, or songkran, this is not the kind of photo you will find in abundance, but it is still one of my favourite things about April. People originally used to build mini and giant sandcastles in temple yards to make up for the loss of soil washed away during the course of the previous year. Now it’s just a tradition. The flags are decorated with the 12 animals of the zodiac, and traditional northern Thai patterns.

One of the reasons I love Chiang Mai is that it is a modern city with all sorts of amenities and services, but it also keeps traditions alive.  :-)

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Temples in my back yard

Old and famous temples don’t necessarily mean big and spectacular. The structure might be only a few decades old, most of the traditional wooden architecture already long gone…. what makes them ancient is the date the foundation stones were laid and the place was first consecrated. May be a disappointment at first glance, and then you adjust, and the hundreds of little quiet sanctuaries in a bustling, crazy city become familiar landmarks and anchors to certain dates and occasions. The place where you go to listen to evening chanting, where you remember the cold moss under your feet on a full moon, candle-lit night… and many others.

I’m not really a Buddhist, but I always made an effort to learn, read and discuss, and it is definitely the religion closest to my heart. It is just shocking though how much deeper all those childhood memories can go, they form a very different part of my personality and identity.

Wat Chiang Man was my first “home temple” for several years, facing east, as all of them, the rays of sunset hit the statue at the back

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Discarded, broken, old Chinese shrines deposited and slowly fading away at the foot of an ancient sacred tree – the proper way to dispose of them

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Just across from my first home

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Lotus bud, freshly prepared, ready for worship. The purity and perfection of this humble flower that grows in muddy ponds symbolises the way that the teachings of the Buddha can rise above the dirty reality of everyday life, and create something so simple and so beautiful out of a mere puddle.

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Frangipani is a particularly inauspicious plant in Thailand, and mostly only found in temple yards, where the sanctity of the place is able to break the evil spell.

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Chinese new year feast for the ancestors laid out at the outdoor shrine of the temple in Chinatown

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Beautiful paintings inspired by ancient styles and techniques for sale at the Sunday walking street market

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Monk at prayer in the ancient cave temple of Wat U Mong at the edge of the city, foot of the hill. Chedis like this often hide an old Buddha relic, the ashes of a famous monk, or sometimes royalty.

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At the back of Wat Phra Singh (I think). Chiang Mai is a monastic education hub, with tens of thousands of teenage monks working for their high school diplomas and then many continuing on at the Buddhist University.

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A very new reconstruction of old techniques and designs right next to my first kindergarten. The entire structure is built of wood, which is, sadly, very rare any more these days.

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The oldest remaining wooden temple in the old city, flanked by a traditional new year sandcastle topped with dharma wheel Buddhist flags. Huge sandcastles go up every April, originally to compensate for erosion in the temple grounds. (I should find more sandcastle photos for my next entry!)

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Feast for the monks laid out at a temple on a July full moon day, at the beginning of their three-month lent (phansa)

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Flowers, candles and incense sticks (one for the Buddha, one for the teachings, and one for the monastic order – the triple gem). Devotees (and guests are always welcome!) walk around the temple and chedi three times chanting and praying on the three auspicious full moon evenings of the year (March, May and July), marking the most important days of the Buddha’s life as a teacher and spiritual leader.

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And this concludes my temple tour in a nutshell for today.

 

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