Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thai Tea and Art

Chinese Church - Ark ready
Orphanage Visitors
Morning wakeups in rural towns on this huge Southeast Asian peninsula stirs the simplicity in my soul- the roosters start their crow about 5 a.m. A bird who says “For Real” is rapping his call; other birds twirddle non-stop; frogs and cicadas are adding base and percussion, and here in Chiang Mai there is an oversized lizard that crawls under the roof and makes a sound - Tock Tock Tock. He’s a tukai. If he “tocks” 13 times, that’s good luck. So far I’ve only heard 6.

Pig Pride at Orphanage
Chiang Rai is sort of the teenage brother, tourist wise, to Chiang Mai. But to me it has a fascination because nearby is the Golden Triangle, a watery place where Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand come together, the Mekong (from Tibet), Mae Kok (starts in Burma) and the Ruak Rivers merge at the “Sop Ruak”, which is the real name, but American soldiers called it the Golden Triangle. China is a few more miles back up the Mekong river. Yes, the triangle is the notorious area where the opium trade thrived for so many years, a commercial trade which the British started in the 18th century in exchange for tea and silk.  But with the intense dedication and labor of the popular King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his late mother, Mae Fah Luang, through her surviving program Doi Tung Development Project, the problems of illicit drug production and drug addiction are being attacked. It is illegal to have one Papaver somniferum stalk in your possession in this country. I’ll talk about that later.
Would you sit here?

Arty Architecture
On arrival, we were met by a world-class trekker, bicyclist, and friend of Jims, Ann  and a driver Germ who is from a Hill tribe.  Akkha, Lisu, Hmong,  Kariang, (ring or long-necked women), Lahu, and the hard working Yao are the major tribes in Northern Thailand. And we were off to visit an orphanage for children of Hill tribe families, founded by an humble Thai Christian priest, called Kids Garden of Eden. It is also the heart and soul of the widow of Mike Wilson, who takes care of its needs and arrived during our visit. There are about 30 children normally, but on a holiday, only 9 kids were present. Others go off to visit relatives. We were given a short tour of the grounds and the pastor’s house where the girls live temporarily as a dormitory is being built for them - nothing fancy. Concrete blocks. One room for facilities. One large room for beds. The budget is extremely low, the prayer high. They have pigs, chickens, a field to grow rice and another for vegetables. And we met the “mothers” who laughed and smiled as they went about their work cooking lunch for all of us. What a lunch.  Salads, curries, fruits. We had stopped on the roadside and purchased barbecued chicken for the children. The tiniest child of all, aged 4, who was born in prison, and now his mother works at the orphanages, said a rousing grace that got us all into the right mind-set. 

Crocodile Rules
A Resting Place
From here we journeyed to the “art installation” of Thailand’s top artist, Thawn Duchanee, called The Black House (Baan Dam). To stroll through the extraordinary “reinventions” of aspects of Buddhist architecture of teak wood pillars, huge timber doors, glass walls, concrete holy stupas, bricks, and terra cotta is an environmental experience. Nothing is conventional. All is very macho in object and construction with savage red black and gold paintings of his version of, it seemed to me, monster gods; animal bones and huge horns made into high back throne-like chairs, chandeliers, tables out of long trees (like slicing a trunk length wise), alligator and every sort of animal skin spread out on tables and floors, gold and silver items, even Buddhas, white toilets, and outside arrangements of large boulders, one avenue being a labyrinth. Usually this artist, 73, a large man with decisive long white beard, will wander the grounds, but I was told he doesn’t like “foreigners” and his a “character” so we didn’t get to meet with him. It is a tourist stop as well. He is wild and creative, and open-air workshops abound where bamboo baskets and horns and wooden creations abound. There must be about 2 dozen structures - even three white stupa-like hemispheres in different shapes, with  18 foot tall black doors, which only a strong man using both hands can open, and nothing inside but his horn chairs, as if awaiting a meeting of spirits, lined around the circular space. In another are wooden statues of well endowed males and one in which a visitor may not enter as a member of the Royal family meditates in that white space. Off the trails is a structure like a large black whale, off limits to tourist as so much was, because it is where the artist’s bedroom is located.
A weird environmental art experience but invigorating. Not a place of worship, I’m told. 

Thai Green Tea Grown here
The Artist's Respite
After visiting a tea plantation, with its precise rows of short shrubs of tea, women in conical hats bent over and picking the fresh leaves that grow on top, and of course a sampling of the Oolong and Green teas produced there, we wound our way around sharp curves and up to about 3000 feet above sea level - in the mountains - to the night’s respite, Phu Chi Sai Resport and Spa in the land of the Hill tribes. Hello jungle! Hello winding stairs, little lodges built into the side of the mountain with incredible views, Hello a feeling of tropics with the array of flowers, the funny clay statues of fat monks holding their begging bowls to greet us. Up a few steps and there is another patio of plants and views. Rooms were right out of a elephant hunter’s camp. Wi fi was at a premium. No TV. The owner greeted us and then when we were settled, she went to the dining area (all open, mind you) where she taught piano to four young girls. This is not your normal rest house but a situation for solitude and thought.

view from Phu Chi Sai room
Welcoming monks
All seemed at peace. A great get away. As we were ordering a limited dinner, (this is the low season so most of the items we wanted they didn’t have), the winds stirred up. It was quite a cacophony of bashing wet leaves, and the rain came in torrents (roofs are bamboo, leaves, sticks, some tin) and lightening danced with its thunder. Boom. all lights went out. Let me tell you, this was true darkness. Not a light anywhere, not stars, obviously, not flashlights, not candlelight, nothing. It was a whole village thing. We sat there as the wind blew wetness on us through the bamboo shades. That wasn’t a problem. But when we had to go to our respective rooms, we had to tackle a network of outside stairs up and down the mountain we didn’t know, and no light but the little zap the lightening allowed. They did give us an umbrella. Lot of good that did. Then in my room, I was having laptop (Mac Air) problems because there was no room for more photos. I couldn’t do anything else in the night, so I sat up til 1:30 a.m. trying to eliminate duplicates and blurry ones, hoping to reduce the over-load. Didn’t work. Finally gave up. Electricity came back on. 


Anonymous said...

OMG, the crocodile.I love it. The children make me feel so thankful for all I have and my own blessing. It must be a wonderful experience to see all these foreign lands and learn their culture.The Grizzlies are doing wonderfully and will continue. We are holding down the fort until your return.. Safe journey.

Joponica S. Truitt

Anonymous said...

How in the world do you remember all that you write about? The details in your blogs are unbelievable.
You need to compile your blogs into travel books. Those who will never have the opportunity to visit the places you have visited would learn so much from your adventures.
So glad you will return in time to watch the Grizzlies. They have to start hitting free throws and making their layups. Granted, they won last night, but Kevin Durant is scary good. He is a fabulous athlete and a scoring machine. He had 35 points the first game and 36 points in the second game. Maybe you need to find another temple and make an additional offering for the Grizz!
Enjoy your last few days and come home.
God bless you!
Love you,
Geraldean and Judge