Tag Archives: festival

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….




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.


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.













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.


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.





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.




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.  😦  

Eyes of Compassion

I had been looking forward to visiting the biggest Buddhist stupa for the Buddha’s birthday yesterday. It always gives a lot of food for thought.




Eventually, it was colourful, cheerful, loud and exciting, but lacked the spiritual depth that I so got used to in Thailand on this day. Not just because of the crowd, I’m used to that, but there were no prayers, chanting or meditative circumambulation. And too many noisy, drunk youngsters as well, and nobody trying to do anything about it…. so, just more like a village market day. Still, of course, nice enough. And in the end, it is always up to me to find a meaning in anything and everything, no matter the circumstances.








I enjoyed talking with some kids, they went through my whole bag, ate my weird-looking green apple, and eventually looked at some festival photos from Bali on my camera, and readily identified the Hindu monsters and deities I had taken pictures of. So, seemingly far away, but looks like the two cultures are really related after all. I’ve been struggling to make the connections.



I really need to read and learn more about Tibetan Buddhism as well. Hope to do a bit more of that in Pokhara. Picked up some books already, and talked to some weird (but extremely nice) Europeans here who are into shamans, healers, meditation, yoga, and gurus. I don’t think I’m going to get sucked up into anything spooky, I’m too down-to-earth for that, but I always enjoy soaking up stories and personal reflections.




I also need to think about a lot of stuff, and prepare and plan more about the coming months. Looks like I’m going to India next after all. It’s difficult to ignore all the signs that are telling me I need to go. And if it doesn’t work out, I can still escape. But I don’t like having to plan so much. I wish I could just float around. I’m quite relaxed about Nepal now, but everything else still makes me worried, even though it is weeks and weeks away.



I’m sure there is a lot to learn, but as of now I still have no idea what it is meant to be.

By the way, the eyes struck me. I had no idea they would be everywhere. Blue eyes, like mine. 

Also, didn’t expect that Buddhism and Hinduism are so interwoven in everyday acts of devotion and sacred places and beliefs. Familiar bits and pieces here and there, and a vast sea of unknown.


Stolen moments

The thing is, I still don’t have, and probably won’t soon have, a life of my own. I’m still being dragged around by circumstances or others’ decisions. But I’m not trying to resist or divert the flow of events, just float along. It’s what I’m capable of at the moment. I love Bali and I enjoy hanging around here – no problems with that. There are regrets I have, but for now, I also have all the time in the world. For the first time in eight years, I’m not on a schedule or tight timetable. Still learning how to deal with this. Still learning how to just stay in bed for a day and read a book, just because I feel like it, and I can.


I keep stealing moments from others to create my own little moments. Maybe I should feel guilty. Not sure.


There was a double wedding in the royal family, and the town threw a three-day party with music, food, and processions. In the header, it’s the king’s vintage Cadillac, which, according to the photo and information alongside, arrived here in the late 1940s along bumpy dirt roads after a boat ride from America. Unfortunately, foreigners were not allowed to enter the palace and get our pictures taken with the newly married couples or the decoration. So, just a sneak peak through the gate.


There were hundreds of guests and well-wishers streaming through the gates for hours and hours. I had never seen such elaborate hairdos around here, and of course the blouses and sarongs were also much fancier than on any other occasion. Men who wear all white are priests.







A musician and a character that looked and acted much like a court jester – note the sharp and authentic-looking traditional swords on their backs; for the second guy, it is underneath the cape.



And I bumped into a funeral procession. Not rare. I pass by a burning pyre every week or so, just don’t take photos. This time, I didn’t realise in time. It looked exactly like your usual temple procession along the road, so I stopped to snap a quick picture, and then I saw the body and the burning torch. Usually there is an elaborate coffin, so not sure what was going on. It was Good Friday. A timely reminder.


And then there is the usual two-week temple festival up on the rim of the volcano as well, at Pura Ulun Danu (I guess I should name my places, otherwise it’s really sloppy, right?) It took me a couple of days of trying to actually get there before the inevitable rainclouds rolled in.

For now, only a couple of stolen moments from here, young dancers and musicians during a break.



This kid is not reacting to me taking a picture 🙂 There was a performance on the stage behind.


More stolen moments later.


Child’s play

Just some photos of kids from the monster preparations, the parades, and the aftermath


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Dismantling the remains of the giant the day after


Another “lucky” duck that was saved from drowning in the sea (or would they wade out?), only to head for the market to be sold (I was told it’s too expensive to be simply eaten).


It’s interesting that in all these years of taking photos of random kids on the beaches, streets, anywhere, nobody has ever taken offence or come after me. Not sure you would get away with it back in Europe.


Face the demons

Warning – lots of photos 🙂 I just love them too much.

It was just simply powerful stuff. First, driving around the small villages and communities around Ubud as people were putting the finishing touches to their giant monsters. Simple everyday psychology – drag your fear out into the open, give it a face and personality, a story, and a clear way to defeat it, and in the end, physically destroy it. I enjoyed doing Halloween with kids for a similar reason, it is about our most primeval emotions, so many highs and lows to go through with the chants, arts and little rituals.



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And then of course those little things, the youngsters listening to death metal in the community hall while tying the bamboo rods together with black-and-white strips of cloth, other communities going for traditional gamelan. Motorcycle “gangs” pulling up and commenting. Trucks arriving with more bamboo, organised chaos. Little kids practising how to spin around their smaller giants, in an attempt to throw the spirits off track, send their heads spinning. Boys rehearsing the moves of the dances acting out the struggle of good and evil, one of them wearing a t-shirt with the inscription “I didn’t come from a rib, I came from a vagina“. Elaborate hairdos being prepared, with lots of purple and blue spray cans going around. I play with the small ones, acting out I’m a monster too, claws out, eyes bulging, crazy hair, growling – there is lots of screaming and laughter as I chase them down alleys and around pillars. Nobody trying to be proper and sanctimonious and ancient.






Somehow something feels right, traditional rituals, outdated ancient religious beliefs, unscientific tenets, should be dead in “our modern world”, yet the youngsters and kids seem to be the most involved whichever street I go down, and really make the day their own, wild, crazy, bordering on a trance in the end, sacred and profane, so real, so alive, so powerful, one of the most powerful things I have experienced in my life.







And yet, I almost know, if I had grown up in a community like this, I would probably be an outsider here as well. I always resented being told what to do and what to believe. But at the moment, from where I am standing, all I resent is that we completely destroyed our own worlds, communities, beliefs and culture, and we are out to destroy everyone else’s as well. This is a resilient one here, and I don’t think it will surrender. Long live the devil, and long live the kids who will beat it.





(to be continued….)


Melasti ceremony

The header shows the demon queen Rangda, the first photo below is the king of all the good spirits (Barong), their eternal struggle is performed regularly, and has a very powerful presence everywhere. It’s another day of prayers, chanting, offerings (including a live black duck thrown to the sea and quickly retrieved by some lingering teens), a dip into the waves. The photos should pretty much speak for themselves, not much to say. It was insanely hot, even though before ten in the morning, and I should be used to it after all these years, but anyway, I spent the rest of the day with some intensive silent day rehearsal (aka sleeping).


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