Tag Archives: 2006

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 🙂


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.



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.





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….




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.  🙂




















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


Just across from my first home


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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!)


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


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.


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


Waters fall

And I miss my waterfalls, too, don’t remember seeing one in the past two years. Maybe small ones. I remember this big one as the last, in a downpour, with a wet camera lens, somewhere in Bali.

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I watch the water tumbling down over the rocks. Roaring. Drowning out every thought and leaving just the raw emptiness, to be filled with anything that may. Tempting fate, but always worth the gamble for an hour.
I am wondering if fish hear the water at all – or maybe for them, this roaring sound is silence itself – the only reality they know.

I take photos – hundreds of them. On the little screen, the falling water is motionless for a split second, giving the funny little illusion that I can escape impermanence. I press the button again and again in a vain attempt to stop the water from falling, to freeze it in mid-air, playing with the thought that it may even un-fall if I try hard. The water laughs at me and thunders on, and I laugh at the water, in the end.

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The little stream flows, falls, thunders, sings, meanders on and on, for decades, centuries, millennia. The photos – imperfect, fragile memories of the moment, remain. I wish I could hold on to more. Just enough to fill my cup with.

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Then I put my camera down and plunge into the water. Unexpectedly, time stops while everything is moving and I swim against the current. This is as close as I ever get to permanence.

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Still looking for the waterfall with the rainbow. The one where I can stand still and let it flow all over me and everything would fall into place and make sense. Like it once did.

Dance until the sun goes down

I used to be cynical and bitter. (Even more cynical and bitter than now!) Asian holidays and festivals have taught me a lot about embracing the inner child. Just being happy for pretty much nothing. The colours, music, food, parades, dancing, fun. I love how each and every holiday is celebrated with friends and community, not locked up between four walls. I love how they jump at every possible opportunity to make a day special, different. I even love that they take holidays from other cultures too, and twist them around, using them for decorations and yet another excuse to give presents and have a party. I love how welcoming they always are, inviting people to join, dance, sing, go round with a candle (or throw firecrackers and water or whatever the routine appropriate for the season).

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But actually, Poi Sang Long is a very traditional Shan festival in April, a massive two-day party before sending off their little boys for a summer at the monastery.  My favourite Thai festival for taking photos….


Most of these people in Chiang Mai were refugees or illegal aliens from Burma, but even they know how to put up a party and be happy much better than many of us.


Yet another lesson we could learn…. and I’m still trying to learn, even after ten years. My inner Hungarian (always complaining, moaning, grim and cynical for no reason and no end) has been cornered and caged, but makes a fierce attempt to break free every once in a while. It’s something safe and familiar to hold on to. Like a rag doll from childhood that stinks but you just can’t throw it away because it is so deeply part of you.

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(Gotta love this cute future musician!)