Thailand – final days, final thoughts

1790Well, I’ve been home for two months and I suppose it’s time to write my final thoughts on this trip. Like with any other major life event, as you get further and further away from the actual event and you get re-immersed into your daily routine, the enthusiasm and some of the details fade a bit, but, for me, certainly not the overall feeling of having had a terrific time.  

Our tour leader Pranee is actually from Phuket and while we were there, we were fortunate enough to meet her  mother. I suppose that is part of the reason it has taken me a little bit longer to write this. After sending Pranee a photo I took of her with the elephants, she let me know that her mother had passed away shortly after we returned home – which makes this post all the more melancholy. And to be clear, it’s not as if I knew Pranee’s mother before the trip or became fabulous friends with her during the trip. It’s just a reminder that eventually, we all lose loved ones. Continue reading “Thailand – final days, final thoughts”

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Thailand – Best days

1461So we go from the lowest point of the trip to the two absolute most shining moments of the trip – and the two experiences could not have been any more different.

 The last full day in Chaing Mai was a Sunday. The morning was left open for everyone to do as they pleased but there was an activity planned for those who were interested. In addition to visiting several more local temples, it included a visit the temple directly behind the hotel in order to make an offering to the monks who lived there. There were 6 of us that went. The hotel did a beautiful job of packaging up the food (see photo) and we were led not only by Pranee but also by one of the hotel staff. Again, I suck with names and I did not record hers, but she was young, enthusiastic and absolutely lovely. What struck me about her as with other guides I have seen is how much she loves her country and her culture. There was a pride in the way she told us about ceremonies or the history of certain activities. She patiently answered all of our questions and when a tourist from another group started to listen to her, she simply included him in the discussion.

 She reminded me of a different tour guide from a different trip. This tour guide was slightly older and had a master’s degree in art. We met her on my trip to Istanbul several years ago. During our visit to Hagia Soffia, we heard the Muslim call to prayer and one of the members of our group asked this tour leader how she reconciled not being able to pray at that moment. The woman paused and took several minutes to give her answer. She simply said that her god understood she had responsibilities and that she would pray when the time was appropriate. She had tears in her eyes as she told us and you could see that her worship was a very important part of her life. It was one of the most stirring moments I have ever witnessed first hand. And I respected her more for it. I don’t know how to convey my feelings here. What moved me was her conviction that she had a deep connection to her god and that god, in her view, did not think that her devotion had a specific timetable.

In Chaing Mai, our visit to the temple and our offering was very ceremonial and I did not understand a word that was spoken. I am not sure that I truly get all the pageantry but I respect it. I was not brought up with any formal religion so this is just different to me. One of the questions I never asked, but should have, was whether or not the monks were speaking in a language that everyone understood or if it was a language like Latin and no one understood it.

 The remainder of the day was spent poolside and then there was a massive night market just after dinner. The market was just behind the hotel and stretched for several blocks in every direction. It is a weekly occurrence and you could buy anything you wanted. There were even banks of massage chairs set up for foot massages. The following morning we headed to the airport for our third city – Phuket.

 Now I am not sure these two cities could be more different. Chiang Mai is agricultural, mountainous and quiet. Phuket on the other had is like Miami meets Vegas in Thailand. Where there were no buildings in Chiang Mai over five stories tall, Phuket had many hi-rises all along the coastline. The beaches were crowded and you could hear any language you wanted.  Our hotel did not have beach access but it did have an infinity pool and a swim up bar. And that is the location of the second high point of the trip which was happy hour on our first day in Phuket.

 I don’t know if it was the heat, the liquor, the fabulous pool or all of us just deciding at the same time to let our hair down, but it was just a blast. There was great conversation, splashing and silliness and a bonding that happens when a group travels together for two weeks. At one point, I was being goofy and twirling around on one of the granite stools in front of the swim up bar. I actually convinced one of the women in the group that the seats actually spun… Like I said, there was a little alcohol. In every single picture from that afternoon and early evening, everyone has a broad grin on their face and there was not a single negative comment. Okay, perhaps that’s not true. We did have a tough time getting the bartender to pay us a little more attention but that was so minor it’s barely worth mentioning… and yet I just did. The afternoon stretched into early evening and many of the concerns from earlier in the trip disappeared.

By this point in the trip, the photographic opportunities were winding down, but there are two more events worth mentioning, but that will be my next post. Until then…

Thailand, Chiang Mai and Days 3 and 4

952AI love this photo both because of the solemnity of the pose as well as the tactile nature of the piece from all of the gold leaf that Buddhists have rubbed onto the icon. The application of the gold leaf was another way to send your wishes out into the Universe. And if I had to guess, my wish at the time I took this photo was perhaps more time to take photos and a little less time with the group.

I have been struggling with whether or not to express how I really felt on parts of this trip because it might hurt someone’s feelings. But in the end, I think I have a readership of five on a good day and my blog has never really been about anything more than writing, preserving some things for my son and processing how I feel about certain situations. And so the gloves come off and away I go. As I have previously mentioned, the group I traveled with was extraordinary but that does not mean all things were perfect all the time. As with all group dynamics, there were moments and exchanges that I could have handled better – and not to finger point, but there were times when some folks in the group were just rude.

From my perspective, I tried very hard to keep up with the group and to never make them wait on me because I wanted to take one more photo. I could have visited a dozen more temples and taken a thousand more photos. But by the time we hit days three and four in Chiang Mai, the majority of the group was “templed out”. Each new location brought eye rolls and sighs of dismay that we were seeing yet another gold Buddha. And while many in the group may have thought I did not hear or didn’t care if I did, the temples were the main reason I was there. As a result, I started to get a little resentful that while I was acting responsibly, being prompt and deferential at their activities, they were beginning to get a little fed up with what I wanted to do. Continue reading “Thailand, Chiang Mai and Days 3 and 4”

365 Reflections – Reflection 58

131ALast Saturday was my day for a photographic field trip. The location at the top of my list was a site I failed to access the first time I visited. Without repeating the behaviors of some of those “stupid criminal” stories you’ve surely heard, let’s just say the site is only accessed through private land which is surrounded by a fence, or two, or more… My first attempt resulted in dozens of blackberry brambles and a lecture from a very astute neighbor complete with threats of notifying the police. With my second attempt, I did a little bit more thorough homework and developed a better plan with the help of some aerial photography. Never underestimate the power of the internet and the determination if a stubborn, middle aged artist.  

The site is not one an average person would likely be aware of. It is abandoned and in serious decay – which is part of the reason it had so much appeal to me. I was sure I could get some terrific photos. In the process of taking photos, here’s what I discovered about myself:

Continue reading “365 Reflections – Reflection 58”

Thailand and Chiang Mai

658Well finally, we have arrived in Chiang Mai – as far as blog topics. What a difference from Bangkok! Chiang Mai has a very small town feel to it even though there is a significant population. There is also a little bit of smog but because of the surroundings, it just didn’t feel like it did in Bangkok.

The first notable difference was our hotel. The rooms were built around a grand tamarind tree and the hotel buildings were only two stories tall. All dining was done poolside which is never a bad thing. The hotel front desk had a roof over it but was not enclosed and the staff of the hotel was small but exceedingly pleasant. There were several ways to access the hotel but perhaps the most charming was the formal entrance from the main road. The driveway itself was almost enclosed – there were very tall walls on either side of the drive. The pavement was cobblestone and there was bamboo planted in the margins. As the bamboo grew, it leaned over the drive from each side making an arched bamboo canopy. Within the bamboo there was subtle up-lighting from the ground and softer, billowy fabric light fixtures hung from above. The overall effect was enchanting.

On our first morning in Chiang Mai, Pranee, our fearless leader, took me and two other travelers out on an early morning exploratory walk. Okay, I’ll be honest – it turned from a casual walk to find interesting photo opportunities, into a full blown monk chase. Tacky but true. Now before going on about my somewhat stalker-ish mission to get casual monk photos, I’d like to make some observations about Buddhism in the West versus Buddhism in the East. Continue reading “Thailand and Chiang Mai”

365 Reflections – Reflection 57

493AIn a way, even though I have come to accept labeling myself as an artist, I still struggle with the label of being called a creative person. I see those two concepts as being completely separate. In many ways, I simply cannot think outside the box. I live by parameters and self-imposed assumptions which are loaded into the flow-chart mind I have that I use frequently to make decision. But I am working on it and this week, I think I’m beginning to see progress.  

I enrolled in a class recently called “Art Journaling as a Spiritual Practice”.  On our first night, the instructor read a meditation to us and explained that all of the supplies laid out on the table were for the class to use as we contemplated the poem and meditation she read aloud. We weren’t to think about anything in particular nor were we supposed to make a preconceived image or “beautiful” piece of art. That’s not to say that if an image came into our head we couldn’t make that. Rather she meant that we were supposed to be spontaneous in what we put on the page.

And so I sat. And sat some more. Continue reading “365 Reflections – Reflection 57”

365 Reflections – Reflection 7

081My community garage sale is this weekend and in preparation for the big move in May, I am (hopefully) getting rid of a lot of stuff.  I knew that in my vision for my next place that it would be significantly smaller. In fact, I am going from a 4 bedroom house with 1800 square feet into a 2 bedroom condo with 800 square feet. In the kitchen alone I am grappling with currently have 10 drawers while the new space has only 4. But I know that the move is necessary and the next step on my journey.

When I look around at my home, I am struck by how many compromises I made. Decisions were driven first according to budget and then whether or not I liked the piece. My husband at the time really did not care to have a say in many of the purchases. And as I look at all the colors now, it is interesting how different my new vision is. My walls are currently some form of khaki and the woods are all in the maple, cherry and oak tones. The new place will be in soft greys with white counters and ash grey floors. I am not sure if I am just making a 180 degree shift to leave what I currently have or if I settled for so long that I just forgot what I really wanted. More than likely it was a process of evolution. We moved in 14 years ago this month. In that period of time, I have divorced and changed jobs several times but have also gone back to school and studied design. Continue reading “365 Reflections – Reflection 7”