Category Archives: Thailand

Kids from yesteryears

I got so slack with blogging even though I had all the time in the world…. almost, so to speak…. and now that it’s stolen five minutes here and there, again, I feel a bit more motivated. God knows why…

My first batch of Thai kindergarteners are in grade 7 now. Time flies. They were special to me. The one with the curly hair, people often thought she was my daughter. Smart and insecure and emotional, so much like me. Then, the chatty little boy, naughty and pesky, but sharp and creative and considerate. I always said to people, if I ever have a son, I would like a son just like him. Always have been attracted to similar characters over the years, ever since. And then, the boy with the huge eyes, quiet, absorbing everything with some kind of ageless wisdom, making me want to be better than I was, try to come up to his image of me…. rather unsuccessfully, I would say. And the little princesses – I’m not supposed to have favourites, but I always do. I did have sleepless nights about them, and worries, and sometimes cried my eyes out. I hope they prepared me to be a better mother. I’m still feeling woefully inadequate at the moment.

I promise I will try to come back to blogging…. I need to keep my sanity, keep some kind of footing, grounding…. and I lost so much time, so many thoughts, again, just all that suppressed fear I had all along my pregnancy…..

Anyway…. my kids…. now I have my own, after all these years….

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Fear of joy

Songkran is notoriously difficult to take good photos of, especially if you don’t have a waterproof camera, which I never did for this festival…. for the real deal, really need to google images for “chiang mai songkran parade”….. please do 🙂

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It was an experience…. but then, after three years, I always preferred a trip abroad in the middle of April, after having been knocked off my motorbike something like 5 days before the holiday, on the way home from work. I didn’t feel safe anymore. I desperately wanted to be there but was too scared to. But I do miss the parades, the streets of the old city, where most people still managed to behave respectfully (more or less), at least back in 2006.

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Every April, for a few hours, I’m there in spirit, seeking blessings, praying, and going for an all-out water fight with my students in the scorching April heat. I miss the joy…. that crazy outpouring of sheer joy that the photos don’t reflect. They were taken at the parade to the governor’s residence, not a main event. I was way too worried about my camera. Just feasting on others’ photos all the time when I want to remember.

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I remember this guy above kept a chilled can of beer in his bowl, not offerings 🙂

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So many moments of joy coming to my mind now, people and experiences I don’t have any photos of. Dancing in the monsoon rain. Chanting with the monks. The scent of flowers staining my fingertips yellow. The chill of icy water running down my spine.

I’ve had a good life, after all…. but the thing is, I need joy from the world, from others, from outside, I cannot just generate and create it for myself. I’m like a vampire, feeding on others’ souls…. and desperately trying to give back and contribute, just the restore balance to the world.

These days, I’m scared I will die soon and then who will take care of my son? I cannot send him back to his father, no matter how much I love him. There is never ever any more balance in this world. No way, impossible. I wanted to create something way too desperately and I’m still half expecting lightning to strike me down.

And even if I live, can I not put this burden on him, that he needs to make me happy and give me joy and give meaning to my whole life?

I’ve been wanting this so many years, and I thought my years of not caring about myself at all would help, but probably I’ve been on the wrong track all along. Or not sure what’s going on. I’m still terrified and not a single step closer to feeling all right about what awaits me.

Sometimes I fear that no songkran, no new years, no joy will ever help….

 

 

Unbleached

One night a few days ago, I sat up abruptly in the middle of the night, and three words flashed into my mind, out of nowhere, unhinged, derailed, bleached. Obviously, I’m not in the best of mental states, but whatever…. it is what it is. Bleached I did come across though a few days later, on the way to visit family. The landscape, all the colours. Everything looks like an old photo from the seventies, having lost its original colours through some lousy application of chemicals, or simply time. Supposed to be one of the best landscapes around here and never even thought of reaching for my camera. So devoid of life and excitement and all. But at least it didn’t make me sad or anything, I was just quietly observing things for now. I’m point blank refusing to think about or plan for anything beyond the next couple of months.

Still waiting for the other two words to make themselves more clear, though there may be no specific reason here beyond the obvious.

Well, at least one thing I’m enjoying here at home are all the bland, “bleached” flavours of my childhood. I don’t miss any of this stuff here that I enjoyed taking photos of.

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Celebrate the light

It’s not really November full moon at the moment, but holidays and festivals always make me think, and today I was thinking about loy krathong. As I’m trying to graduate from fearful to fearless, and rise to the challenge of raising my son, I’m asking myself too many questions again.

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I come from a family where we cannot and do not celebrate anything. When I first went to Asia, I was instantly captivated by the completely over the top, outrageous, colourful and boisterous and flavourful and insane festivals.

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I was swept away by the community spirit, the openness, the emotional highs and lows. I had to learn how to celebrate things. Not just take photos or run for dear life when firecrackers are hurled into the thickest crowd, but also to think about their meaning, to connect with them, and make them my own. Hiding and pretending that nothing is happening is simply not an option.

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So, now it comes to the point that I have established loy krathong rituals for those November full moon nights, but I still have no idea whatsoever what to do about Easter. But I would guess most people don’t. These original ideas of sacrifice and death and resurrection and forgiving and salvation are just way too serious. And somehow spring is not really around most of the time anyway. There is no community, most rituals and customs are tedious, people just seem to run these errands and feel relieved when they are over. I cannot feel that overwhelming joy that is in every lantern, every song, every candle or flower in any Asian holiday.

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We just don’t have the spirit here. I feel blank. I have no idea what heritage and traditions I can pass on to my son. I hope the colours, songs and joy of Asia are in his blood already. And then we’ll figure out the rest together as the years go by.

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Congratulations to damn wordpress about the new editing surface. I see a 3-centimetre strip of my photos and text, and have to painstakingly edit either code or these nearly incomprehensible cross sections of material just to make sense of my own post and pictures 😦  Fuck you all. Just to keep the holiday spirit. 😦  Way to motivate me to make the effort to try to post regularly, too. My mood is completely ruined and my blood pressure is up.  😦  

Dazzling whites

I believe last year I skipped whites from my colour series. In the tropics, it is really easy to overlook, put it down as a conspicuous lack of colour, but sometimes in the strong and dazzling December sun, even the whites dance and shine.

The elaborate dragon motifs on the temple roof are Chiang Rai’s famed White Temple, and most of the flower photos were taken at the New Year flower festival on the same day, among the million reds, oranges, pinks and purples – still one of my favourite events in Thailand.

Bonus photo at the very end: my sister’s snow white deaf cat (one blue eye, one yellow eye, still hoping to take a good photo of him one of these days soon).

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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.