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.

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Entertaining – OCD Style

018AOne of the things I decided to do shortly after I moved last spring was to entertain more. My goal was to have an evening on a periodic basis where everyone could come and just relax. And by everyone, I mean a girls’ night. I know I could invite spouses or significant others, but I think girl time is more valuable to me – and frankly, in the abyss of “singledom”, I don’t want to be the only person in the room with no partner.  But I also want to maintain the friendships I have, and establish new and stronger relationships.  I spend a fair bit of time researching and deciding upon recipes and then I cook all the food and ask that my friends just come – no expectation of them bringing anything. My thought was that if I remove all obstacles for my friends and just opened up my home, we would be more likely to stay in touch. And honestly, I love to prepare food and entertain.

 My desire to entertain has not always been an active pursuit. When I was married, my ex was a bit anti-social and he was simply not interested in my friends or their spouses. I think the entire time I lived in my house I had two parties while I was married and another two or three after my divorce.  I lived in my house for 14 years. In contrast, I have lived in my condo for almost eleven months and I have already had three parties, am in the process of planning and producing party number four.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Thailand – sort of…

643ABehind the scenes, so to speak, I have been diligently working on the photographs of my recent trip to Thailand. This is no small feat since I took over 1800 photos in two weeks. What I have tried to do, simply for my sanity, is, for each blog post, to display a photo from the trip that is from the city we were visiting or the activity we were doing. Well, we were only in Bangkok for 3 days and I have really exhausted what I want to say about Bangkok but I have not gotten through processing all of the Bangkok photos. My head can’t move on to writing about a new city until I have finished with all of the photos of the current city.

While I could have very easily dumped all of my photos into Flickr for the world to see and not taken the time to do any editing, I am really trying to develop an on-line presence. As a result, I am being very critical and only posting photos that I find beautiful. And, in the same way that I am not posting link-backs to things I mention in my blog, I am trusting that the folks I traveled with have many of their own photos and are not relying on me to be the group historian.

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365 Reflections – Reflection 57

498AIn 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.

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Thailand – Blogging woes and travel guides

223AWhile not extensive, I have traveled some. There have been 3 cruises with family and then 2 group tours, and one solo trip. The group tours were to Africa in 2009 and then last month to Thailand. The solo visit was to India in 2011. Each type of travel has its advantages and disadvantages. With cruises, you cover a larger span of geography but in the particular cruises I did, you did not have more than a day in any one place. Again, there are good and bad things about this but on the whole, I enjoy cruising because it’s kind of like a buffet – if you want more of a particular location, you know just enough to go back. The solo trip was by far the most challenging and that’s possibly due to the location. Unless it is Europe, I would have to think long and hard about going anywhere by myself. My favorite mode of travel, as a single person, is traveling with a group of folks that have a common interest. Again, there are positives and negatives but if the group gels, there are far more positives. Of course, I harbor the secret fantasy that when Prince Charming arrives, that will be my favorite mode of travel – globe trotting from one exotic locale to another, camera equipment and handsome beau in tow.
The reason I bring up the various modes of traversing the globe, is that with this traveling, I have done blogging. When I went to Africa, I dutifully took a journal and wrote each and every night about all of our experiences. When I got back, I thought it would be easy to just transcribe my ramblings and once completed, poof, a blog. However, I got to about day 4 of my journal and quit. The mere act of transcribing just drove me whacko. It was no fun at all and I kept looking back at things to make sure I documented every detail with links back to particular sites because I thought I was being helpful. I wanted every fact at the readers’ fingertips.

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Thailand – Day 2

202Which photo to pick for Day 2? I like to pick my photos first and let them set the stage for the blog post but Day 2 actually started again at oh-dark thirty with texting to my son in order to get my phone set up properly to make calls in Thailand. So this is really a Day 1 issue and I took so many photos on Day 1 that I will bend my self- imposed rules a bit and use a Day 1 photo. What you see to the left is the Reclining Buddha. (Just as a side note, please read the embedded article above about the Reclining Buddha. Just the soles of his feet contain 108 symbols sacred in Buddhism which takes us back to the symbolism of the number 108 which, if you have never read it is fascinating.)

After enjoying breakfast, the group trundled onto our bus and we were off for the day. My group leader let me use her phone and I was able to call my cell carrier and get my phone to work in the event of an emergency which was a great relief. We traveled by means of a rather large bus and had the same driver and tour guide the entire time in Bangkok. The buses were well stocked with water bottles and wet wipes. While I had packed a water bottle with a carbon filter, I never needed to use it. Between the water bottles provided by the hotels and the water on the bus, water was not really an issue the entire time we traveled. And I can happily report that recycling is alive and well in Thailand. In fact, on the whole, although some members of the group might disagree with me, I thought, relative to India, there was very little trash cluttering the landscape. 

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