June 28, 2011

The Tree of Happiness.

Ever since I arrived in Thailand I have noticed the phuang malai, the garlands of jasmine, marigolds and roses, which the Thai hang on their house shrines, or near a little statue of Buddha or even in their car. I seem to have to buy one now and then, and hang it in my room, just to give it some color. The picture in the background is of the Tree of Happiness, I was told.

Temple pet.

Indulge me, I happen to like photos like this and besides, my mind constantly drifts to Athena, my dog, who is waiting for my return (I hope). Do dogs forget their owners? 

Free finches for good luck.

The past few days, I had seen this wizened women walking around, and later at one of the temples. I had made some pictures from afar. What intrigued me today were the baskets she had with her. As I came closer, I saw that they contained birds. In surprisingly good English, she said that she would let them free which would bring me good luck. Naturally, I had to cross her palm with a banknote, but it was worth the experience to me, and being able to take a couple of shots from close by.

Now, I am going to sit back and see if some good fortune will come my way.

Look at that smile. I think she is the smartest business woman in Chiang Mai.

House Shrine.

I love this house shrine. She looks a bit of a material girl with that bag of money and that demanding little hand.

June 27, 2011

Little lotus blossoms.

Rain started beating down after lunch, and I decided to seek refuge in a massage place, that also does manicures and pedicures, because I needed to spruce up a little. As I entered, I looked down at the feet of the woman, opening the door. They were really dirty, but I decided to go in anyway. The gay helper, was more interested in the color I would choose, than giving a massage to one of the four English girls who also came in out of the rain. Everywhere you go, there seem to be a few too many people to handle the work, and this gives an impression of disinterest. Thai seem to be obsessed by removing hairs from their body, with their nails. They are the kindest people, and are said to be hard workers, however there is obviously a lot of hidden unemployment. I had 3 people attending to me, and still got a really bad manicure. My 7 year old niece could have done better. I did however have the best cup of tea since I arrived in Chiang Mai.
As soon as the rain let up a bit, I decided to move on but it didn't take long before I was drenched again.
I had seen Lila every day as I walked to my hotel, so went in there dripping generously around, for a hot oil massage. Lila is more upscale; still a massage is only around $ 10.00 to $ 25.00. Feet only, a mere $ 6.00.
I think I could have held the little lotus blossom lady assigned to me in the palm of my hand. Yet her size did not prevent her from pummeling and squeezing me in ways I would not have thought possible. Neither have I ever had the experience of having someones knees in the small of my back whilst they were pounding on my shoulders. This was one hefty massage, I tell you.

June 26, 2011

The Notebook.

Although I talk to a lot of people, traveling on your own can be a quiet business. You share your experiences by writing to friends and family, and of course, a blog is a great way to document what you do. I do not keep a journal, because I have found that I never look at them again. The past is the past, and you carry the best memories with you anyway. I do use notebooks to jot down ideas for art work; make rough little sketches and make notes on things I see. The same note book is used for planning and keeping track of times and dates. I have a moleskine agenda, but my life at the moment does not have much in the way of appointments. My last note book is almost full and I thought this was the time to look for another. The Sunday Market was a good place to look for this. You can buy these at home, I suppose, but where is home?
The background is saa (mulberry) paper printed in Thai (I think), and is probably some religious text. The pompoms are made by the local ladies, and they were surprised that I wanted a handful of loose ones, because they are usually attached to bags and clothes.

It looks like Blogger is back to normal. I have my header back at least.

June 25, 2011

Blogger has a problem.

I have just checked other blogger blogs and many of them are having a problem with their header. It's blogger that has a problem.
Rain is pelting down today, but I won't notice much of it as I am going to my Thai cooking class in a bit. I got soaked yesterday afternoon, and sat out the heaviest cloud burst having a foot massage. All the pampering you can indulge in here!

June 24, 2011

The Blogger Monster is acting up.

I have lost my header and my side-bar has moved way down to the bottom. I don't think it's any of my doing and I have not been able to fix it.

In the nut.

House Shrine

The smell of lemongrass is everywhere. Normally, a pleasant smell, but in excess it is as if you cannot rid yourself of it. When I leave my room, a swirl of the scent always manages to find my nose. It will follow me for the rest of my life, and will forever remind me of Thailand.

Upon arrival, the guesthouse I had booked, was full. I slept next door in an overpriced boutique hotel and might just as well have been in California. It was lovely, but I am a bit of a romantic when traveling, and prefer a place with atmosphere, which I quickly found.

The room is dark though, with only a tiny window, but it has airconditioning, a roomy bathroom and anything else I might need. I have been adopted by Tatar, a young man, who speaks excellent English and who tells me about daily life in Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside.

From the first conversation we had, there was one word that I didn't understand. I heard him say 'nut'. 'Here in the nut', and thought it was a Thai word for the region. Yesterday evening, again the word kept appearing in the conversation and I had to ask him what it meant. It was 'North'. 'Here in the North'. The 'th' is not an easy sound for foreigners to make.

I travel for the feeling of where I am, not so much for the things one has to see or do. I wandered in and out of Wats (Buddhist Temples) yesterday, did a little bit of shopping, but hardly bought anything. Tatar says not to waste money on the tourist shops, but to wait for the Sunday market, which will be right outside of my hotel on the main street. People from the villages bring their crafts for sale at the Sunday market. I am not looking to buy much because I am traveling light, and there isn't space in my luggage. In Bangkok, I bought some beautiful turquoise beads from Afghanistan and I will be looking for silver beads from the Hill tribes. I want to make a necklace for Marianne, and I know she likes things that are "different". I will do my best to find unusual beads and make a design that she will like. The stones themselves are very heavy, so I cannot add much weight to it. My niece (7), picked up the whole strand and said, "Oooof, who wants to put that around their neck?"
 In fact, I have not seen any silver beads in the many shops. Even the area, where on my map, it says 'silver beads', there were no beads to be found. Maps here are not very reliable. The main streets are shown, but the myriad of little allies are not, so you have to ask or guess where something is. The saa paper store was in a little back ally, and I was fortunate that an expat school teacher walked me there, otherwise I may not have found it.

I might have danced naked on a table last night. After dinner, I felt like a sundowner and ordered a gin on ice. When they brought me the glass, I thought it was water. Two lonely ice cubes floated in a glass filled to the brim with gin. I decided that a third of it was more than enough. Wisdom comes with age, thank goodness.

June 23, 2011

The train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Close-up of temple decoration.
 When Bangkok is left behind, and as the rice fields come into view, your lungs fill with the freshness of the country side; as when swimming submerged and breaking the surface for air. The fiery orange and crimson flowers of the Flame trees; the fresh green of the rice field; the flowering weeds along the tracks makes one forget the hustle and bustle of the city.  I boarded the three wagon train at 8:30 a.m. to start the 12 hour journey to Chiang Mai. A bunch of young backpackers were in the other section of the wagon, but they were quiet, and most slept. A Chinese gentleman down the aisle made himself comfortable with a little pillow under his head, and I settled in. 12 Hours seemed like a long time. My legroom was minimal and the seat a little thinly stuffed, but I had a folding table, like in a plane, and the uniformed hostess brought coffee, juice and a bun, which raised my expectations, which. unfortunately, would not be met. Lunch eventually consisted of white rice, and some pieces of what I think was dried chicken. Later I saw the Chinese gentleman empty a little bag of fish sauce over his rice, which I must have overlooked, but which would have immensely improved the flavor.
I had my breakfast at the station prior to departure, and one food stand displayed 'Mexican buns' of all kinds. I have never seen these steamed buns in Mexico, but they must sound exotic here. I ran my fingers over the bun in the train, and it was as soft as a baby's cheek. I should have left it at that, as it didn't taste like anything much and the bright green interior, was .....well, a bright green interior. Nothing more. Perhaps you are only supposed to caress these little buns and not eat them.
By 10:30 we were surrounded by highly professional, crisply measured rice fields and large agricultural equipment, crowded at time with flocks of white herons, dotted with an occasional larger grey and black heron, waiting patiently, staring at the water for his midday meal to swim by.
As you slowly continue up into the mountains, lotus covered ponds and canals accompany you for miles, and the rice fields change into smaller, more rustic rectangles until you are in the foothills, where they are no longer seen and are replaced by lush tropical vegetation.

Thailand is a clean country, and even the train's toilets were clean, with running water and soap. I have seen far worse, even in Europe. I don't mind using a squat toilet, but this one would not hold still for even a minute. I must have looked really pleased with myself when actually getting out of the little door, in the rolling train, balancing on every ridge that I could find, so that I didn't have to get my shoes wet. It was probably water anyway, but I wasn't entirely sure, as I didn't think that the backpackers' sense of balance was any better than mine.

June 19, 2011

Paper Cut.

Handmade paper (die) cut card on saa (mulberry) paper made by the hearing impaired here in Thailand.
When I left home at 21 to live on my own, I could hardly cook. Over time, I became rather a good cook learning to refine my skills while I was living in France.
My brothers are both excellent cooks. How that happened, I don't know. There is quite a bit of age difference between us, so my mother might have decided that they needed to know how to cook (and sew buttons on their shirt), or that they started, earlier than I, out of interest, but over the years we had some very good times preparing delicious meals (and eating them).
One brother likes preparing big cuts of meat and large fish. Christmas at his house often meant that something like duck or capon would be served.
My husband was a pastry chef prior to making a career move, and when the family was at our house he sometimes made impressive looking desserts. The one that stands out most of all in my mind is the Gateau de Sainte Honore, a pyramid of cream puffs, around which he spun threads of sugar.
In my cook book, where I have kept notes and recipes since I started cooking, there is one entry which is especially dear to me. In the handwriting of a 10 year old it tells how to make mayonnaise from scratch. At the time, I was totally amazed and charmed that my little brother could make mayonnaise all by himself.

A subtle nudge.

I have been waking up very late lately. Even at the worst of times, I am a good solid sleeper. It may be the climate; it may be that I need it, but I have had such trouble waking up the last couple of months.
Yesterday evening, there was an enormous alarm clock next to my dinner plate. It's definitely not a travel alarm clock, but my brother's sense of humor didn't escape me. He has always had a fine sense of humor. Anyway, I now wake earlier to the sound of 'It's a small world after all', accompanied by a very loud rattling and ringing. His gesture makes me realize how I miss being around him, but we live in different parts of the world, and that's the way it is.

June 18, 2011

The Monitor Lizard on the ceiling.

Mango wood bowl.
 It must have been a day or two after my arriving here that I was sitting on the veranda, waking up. Suddenly I heard a loud scuttling noise beneath my feet, and out from under the wooden planks scurried a great big monitor lizard. It was over 3 ft and very fat. It made it's way over the veranda to the other side and continued through the screen door, which easily gave way. I was at first taken aback, but soon gave a shout to the maid, so that she knew the creature was in the house. She gave a yelp, and with the lizard sitting on the printer, she climbed a chair and brandished a mop at it. Fortunately, the reptile decided that this was not where he wanted to be, and took the same route out of the house and back under the veranda.
It was only then that I heard the scratching on the ceiling in the evenings but I could hardly imagine that such a big animal was walking over the space between the roof and the ceiling. Mr. Sweetie was called, the general maintenance man, and I don't know if his name is Sweetie, but it certainly sounds like it. He came with a little bamboo cage with some aged chicken to entice the lizard into his trap. The lizard I saw would not fit in there, that I knew. Holes in the garden were filled and more precautions were taken. The family settled back into their normal routine, and at night we listened to the scratching. In the meantime, the trap stood outside with it's lure, letting off a foul smell. According to me, it was foul enough to entice a monitor lizard. But who am I, where lizards are concerned?
About three days later there was much hoopla outside and my sister-in-law grabbed a shovel and scooted the remainder of the lizard, that was sticking out, into the cage.
Once closed, we all peered in. It could not have been the 3 ft, fat lizard we had seen, because even the cage wasn't 3 ft. However, the maid came to the conclusion that the lizard must have lost weight in the meantime and was convinced that it was the same lizard. It's true that we haven't heard any scratching on the ceiling anymore.

Fleur and her friend peer into the cage.

June 17, 2011

Cupcakes and girly things.

Thailand is a country of extremes. Yesterday I walked through squalid allies and by a canal that was an open sewer, where I saw a monitor lizard swimming between the debris. Cats and kittens made a dash for safety, as I walked past. There are just so many of them. The smell of urine was everywhere.
Then there is the other side of Bangkok. The excellent and efficient Skytrain and Metro. The hair salons that could be in any other big city in the world. The elegant women, balancing on their high heels; the general cleanliness of the people around you. The glimmering gold malls, such as the Emporium and Siam Paragon where you can buy designer anything and everything (though not art paper).
Another aspect of Thai society is the third sex. The lady-boys. Men dressed as women, but as Thai men, in general, are slender and especially when young, can be quite effeminate, one is inclined to think that there are more gay people here than elsewhere. The lady-boys consider themselves women however, and dress accordingly. Their shoulders might be broader than those of a girl, their hands and feet bigger and certainly their voice let's you know that they have made the step from male to female. On the other hand there are many women who work as construction workers. A land of extremes, compared to our world.

June 15, 2011

Thai tourist.

Tried to find the Chinese Art Supply shop, but things went a little differently and meandered through the outskirts of Chinatown, where there was enough to see and decided it was too difficult to do what I had set out to do, based on the map in my Lonely Planet guidebook.
I am aching to do something creative but a travel sketchbook is not my strength. My trusty camera is having a hard time too, perhaps it's the humidity, but it's not working as it usually does.
I have also developed a ridiculous sleeping pattern. At home, in the Summer, I am awake at 5 a.m., in the Winter later, but here I can sleep 12 hours, if left alone. It can't be the heat because I've lived in a hot place for so many years.

In a little store that sold talismans, I saw some small lizards with multiple tails. Many Thai wear a talisman, usually a depiction of Buddha, but these lizards were said to be a lucky charm. The most expensive had 9 tails. Being a sceptic, I assumed that they were fake. Checked it on internet (of course), and saw that lizards detach their tail when caught. In some cases, in certain species, the 'old' tail doesn't fall off entirely, but a new tail is formed as well - hence the two tails. Still, it's an exceptional situation and is rarely seen. So I have my answer, however 9 tails? That little blob of silver at the base of all the tails makes me think though, that, possibly, a drop of super glue has something to do with it.

On the metro I saw an ad stating: "It's not over till you sing a fat lady's song". You see a lot of creativity in English here and some are good for a chuckle.

June 13, 2011

It can hardly be said that I am super soft about animals. I have known people who want to take home every cat or dog they see along their way. Much as I dislike seeing stray animals, I am rational enough to know that I cannot help except by calling the Humane Society.

When I was growing up in South Africa, at many of my friends houses there was a chain dog. My dog, if it was mine because my parents took care of it, would sometimes follow me to school, and wait till it was time to go home.
I wasn't a big animal person like my brothers, but I have had pets all my life and I enjoyed their company. Those who read my blog regularly or browse for earlier posts, will know that I am very much attached to my dog, Athena. She is my constant companion and it pains me that we are separated for the time I am here. I even brought her to Europe from the U.S. because I could not leave her behind while I was gone.

In Thailand, there are mangy dogs on every corner, usually close to the food stands, which are truly everywhere. They are fat, but have sores and the mange is so bad that it's horrible to look at.
At the big Weekend Market I had to go through quite a few moments of horror. There were animals of every kind for sale ranging from reptiles to little hedgehogs, with paws that were still rosy pink because they were so young.

When the local Humane Society puts dogs up for adoption at Pet Smart, they are usually barking or interacting in some way with the people who come to look at them. Not so on the market. Dogs cowering in a corner, looking you  with extreme submission. I am sure that many Thai love their pets, and I have seen quite a few with well pampered dogs at the vet, where we took the new addition to the family, a little Scottish Fold kitten for her shots.

I was surprised to see the Thai Ridgeback, a very unique dog and little known breed in the West, in cages, and although they looked physically well, they had the same forlorn look in their eyes as the other dogs.

It makes you realize that although people are much the same all over the world, there are cultural differences that we don't always understand, but I think that is why we travel. Precisely because we want to see and learn about these differences. If it was the same everywhere, which slowly we are coming to, with McDonalds and Starbucks doing their very best, travel would not be half as exciting.

June 8, 2011

Seahorse in Crayon.

It's not been all that easy to keep up with anything creative lately. First the lack of supplies, then the lack of inspiration, followed by the fact that weather makes all paper corners curl and most importantly lack of a table to work on. Of course, there are tables in the house, but I am so used to working in my own space with no one around me, listening to an audio book, that I have been working in the spacious guestroom, right, which has no table.
The picture didn't quite work out the way I wanted it, and you can see Fleur's fingers, but that adds charm, I think. Perfectionism is not something I strive after. Rather, I prefer spontaneity and we had a good time making the pictures. The drawing I like, a little bit of reality and a little bit of fantasy. They do exist, leafy seahorses.

I used Faber Castell crayons from the children's drawing section, marked 'for children 3 years and over'. I think I fit the category, besides I never nibble on my pencils.

Little Helper.

A painting by Fleur.
I have a little helper who held up some artwork for me to photograph because during the monsoon here, everything is wet and light is scarce because the house has a canopy of tall tropical trees that keep out a lot of light. When you sit on the veranda leaves and flowers drop down, and now and then a coconut.

Dutch Embroidery Sampler from 1786.

Yesterday I googled my name, which I do from time to time to see what comes up. I noticed a picture of a sampler there and my first name. I had posted something a while back on a sampler my mother had made many years ago but it was not the one in the picture. I went from one link to another and met another Elza, and a group of embroidery enthusiasts, that were looking for a particular sampler which they had seen in a coffee commercial. After a long search they had already found the pattern which was made at the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen in the '70's but that is no longer being offered for sale, I believe. I took the opportunity to tell them that my mother had worked there during that period and had made patterns from very old samplers, counting them out stitch by stitch, finding the correct colors and embroidering them to check for mistakes. She also embroidered some for herself, which have been given to my brothers and me.
This morning I read the posts a little more carefully, and sure enough there was my mother's name, which was on a paper along with the pattern they had found. What fun to see that. To me it's an acknowledgement of her work.
Then another surprise. I found my brother's sampler in a drawer in the guestroom here at the house in Bangkok and to my surprise it is the first sampler made by my mother from the reconstructed pattern. It's the exact same sampler the Embroidery group was looking for.
It's monsoon here, so it was out of the question photographing it outside, because everything is wet and now and then there is another shower. I think the pictures are clear enough though for those who are interested to see the finished result.
Now I am going to write my mother a letter telling her all about it. I am sure she will enjoy hearing it.

June 6, 2011

Blog Comments.

I like to think that I am a patient woman. Far more patient than I used to be, at least. I am patient with people. That's easy, but when it gets to waiting, not so. However, what has got me going is Google. I like to leave comments on blogs, and I hardly ever leave short notes. I enjoy receiving comments and feedback too. Lately, I have been writing, and when I choose my Google profile and preview the comments.....it's all gone. Not once or twice but practically every time. Sometimes I don't remember to copy my text and then it's totally gone and it's never the same when I write it again.


Mangosteen is delicious, no doubt about it. You cut along the circumference of the fruit with a sharp knife, twist it so that the halves come apart and then lift out the sweet, white flesh.
I am still on my quest in finding supplies, but I did find this sketch book with very thin paper and a 16 color box of oil pastels. All in the children's drawing department of Carrefour. Although the drawing doesn't quite merit being posted, I did enjoy using the oil pastels (first time) and they blended really nicely when working from dark to light colors. They will work better on a slightly more toothy paper.

June 2, 2011

The Jim Thompson House.

I had never heard of him before, but Jim Thompson seems to have been an interesting man. An American, he stayed on in Asia after WWII, and built a home with 6 traditional teak Thai houses. Most of these houses that were dismantled and brought to the capital were at least two centuries old. Thompson was also implemental in reviving the silk weaving craft and started exporting Thai silk abroad.
A mysterious man, who went out for a walk one day in Malaysia and never returned. Nothing was ever heard of him again.
The interior of the house is filled with his collection of Asian antiques.
There is an excellent restaurant and gift shop and it's a good place to meet other tourists for a chat and a moment of quiet in this busy city.

Where is the Thai Dick Blick?

Heliconia magnificus
This morning it was as if a giant's stomach was rumbling; low, ongoing thunder, which ended in a heavy rain shower.
 For someone who lives in the desert a tropical rain shower is a thing of delight. I sat outside for a while, on my veranda, and enjoyed the clattering of the rain. I was going to go out today but with the cosy darkness of a rainy day, I think I will get out the few things I have been able to buy to draw and paint.

On my way to The Jim Thompson house, I saw someone who was clearly a Thai artist and fortunately he spoke some English, because I wanted to know where he got his art supplies. He said MBK, but I am told that that is like a big dollar store. Mind you, I have sometimes found interesting things to use in my artwork at a dollar store.

I have already been able to purchase water color paper, watercolor pencils and colored pencils. My sister in law, who lives here bought me some smooth paper which should work well with the colored pencils.

Today I will use what I have, but I have already read that there is an art supply store in the Old Siam Plaza and a Chinese art supply store in Chinatown (even more interesting). I really like seeing what is available in other countries. Reading quite a few art blogs from over the world, it's amazing what people have available to them locally. In a city like Bangkok, which appears to have everything one might possibly wish for, it seems that art supplies are tucked in the remotest corners. 

I like not taking anything with me, and then seeing what I can find, and what I can make with that.


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