Category Archives: Thailand

We Women!

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of photographing the We Women charity walk. A group of our supporters fund-raised and walked in solidarity to help improve Burma’s education system.

We Women is: “a foundation that strives to achieve equality for various groups of people in the world. The foundation assists women, refugees, ethnic minorities, and disadvantaged groups with their questions, struggles and needs, as they are formulated within their own terms. Academic research is the first step in this process because it helps to gain insight into local beliefs, practices and ambitions. The key areas of We women’s engagement include personal growth, social inclusion, (mental) health, education, and the encouragement of creative initiatives, with the ultimate goal of achieving equality for all.

Hugo

Ursula Cats, super-woman and founder of We Women, is also a new mom. Taking care of Hugo, Skyping via phone with her We Women counterpart in Holland, and organizing the walk are just a few of the tasks she juggled on Saturday!

Walkin'

I feel pretty...
CM red and white curb actionWe left at around 4:30pm, so the sun was slowly setting as we veered around the South gate of the moat. I can never get enough of the red and white striped curbs here.

Signage

Two of my new favourite ladies! ❤

The rest of the pics are here. I love being inspired by people like these doing positive things. I feel really grateful for being around them. Food for the heart.

Smiles

When I showed this photo to Ursula, she mentioned that it was her favourite of the bunch. Meanwhile, I was cringing since the sweet girl is totally out of focus. From the photo course I recently took, I know that one of the areas I need to work on is getting lots of angles and taking lots of shots to get the most honest expression. When I look at this image, I think: Nooooo! The focus is all off, her right hand is cut off, I needed to move back more, get it from a lower angle, give more space around her. It could’ve been a great photo!

But it’s awesome when the person who sees it still likes it because they might not even notice these things; all they might see is the shining smile radiating through. It reminds me of something Scorsese said about film-making in an old interview he did with John Favreau. He was talking about Casino, how he had to choose between two takes of an important emotional scene featuring Sharon Stone. It one take, Stone gave an incredibly emotive performance, but the camera’s focus was a bit off and the camera work was unintentionally shaky. In the other take, the camera work is technically perfect, but Stone’s performance is less vulnerable and raw. Scorsese chose to put the former in the film, because –for him– emotion wins out every time over technical. I’ve always thought that was a really nice lesson.

I’m looking forward to improving my photo work, but in the end it always comes down to the experience I have with the people I’m working with.

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It’s been some time…

I booked an onward out of Thailand, to Vietnam, as of course Ethiopian Airlines was gonna check. I knew it. After asking my Chiang Mai friends, “do you ever book on onward flight when you fly into TH?” and receiving a unanimous chorus of, “No!” I knew that, since I was flying from Africa, it would likely be different. And it was.

Ethiopian Airlines employee, Ugandan, female: “Where is your return ticket from Vietnam to Canada?”

Me: “I don’t have one. I don’t need one. I am required to have an onward/return out of Thailand. Once I’m in another country, my whereabouts is no longer the responsibility of your airline.”

“That’s not true.”

“I’m fairly confident that it is.”

“Let me check the rule book.”

Knowing full well I don’t have the money to afford a return flight from VN to CA, I somehow keep completely calm. It’s probably just that I lack the energy to feel stressed at this point. 4.5 months in Uganda has been enough, even though I’ll miss it fucking fiercely. Damn.

Airline Employee: “See! Look, it says right here. You need a return ticket from VN to your home country.”

I read the fine-print of her rule book that has every visa regulation for every country regarding entering/exiting procedures. The book clearly states exactly what I told her: that anyone flying into Thailand technically can be prevented from boarding a flight if they don’t show proof of an onward/return air ticket.

I realize that I’m dealing with what I suspect is a white person rule. Maybe I’m wrong. But judging by her incredibly rude and aggressive tone toward me, it seemed like she was exercising her all-mighty airline employee power wherever she could.

Thankful I’d randomly given away an expensive extension cord to another male (Ugandan) Ethiopian Airlines employee about 30 minutes prior (based on solely the whim of a voice inside me saying, “you don’t need this, give it away”), I now sought him out as a potential much-needed ally to get me aboard the plane.

Still carrying the extension cord, he said, “ahhhh” when I explained the situation. Apparently this is just how things go. I’m escorted to speak with the head of EA, where I’m grilled for 15 minutes about my plans. I pass all the tests, and he nods. My extension corded escort gives me the signal to stand.

“So….?”

“You’re fine, it’s not a problem.” Huh. I wander back downstairs, where I find out that of course news of this newly granted permission  has not been given to anyone who actually has the power to let me through to check-in.

Another hour goes by. I’m grateful that I always make a point of being at the airport early. Eventually the information is transmitted and the lady who was adamant that I produce a return ticket begrudgingly lets me through, with a glare. I smile politely, even with my eyes, trying to connect with her, trying to have empathy for the fact that I’m sure it’s a tough job, and I have no idea what her personal situation is. And maybe she really did think that the rule was what she said, and maybe she doesn’t read English very well, and maybe she had a bad day. And maybe.

The flight turns out to have open seating. This is a first for me: of all the times I’ve flown, never before have I witnessed a free-for-all in seating inside the airplane. The cause, as far as I can gather is that a group of smartly dressed men from Kigali made an unannounced late arrival at the airport, and no one was organized enough to properly process them all. I could be wrong.

This leads, unsurprisingly, to a miscount of persons on the plane — we supposedly have one extra body. Triggering concerns of security issues, the flight is delayed for over an hour while the airline stewardesses make numerous failed attempts to determine who the extra person is. We try helping them, making suggestions including actually checking everyone’s seat number, instead of asking people to raise their hands when we can’t even hear what the question is.

Many people seated (by choice!) near me grumble as they realize they’ll be missing their connecting flights due to this delay. I shake my head and make enjoyable conversation with my seatmate. I feel absolutely fantastic about the fact that I’m even on the plane. Whatever happens from here on out, no problem.

Eventually, it’s discovered that the miscount is because one lady took it upon herself to use the ‘free seating’ policy as her big chance to seat herself in first class. Somehow this led them to miscalculate, likely because they didn’t actually count those of us in economy.

And that was the end to my Ugandan adventure. Entirely appropriate. Grateful for the experience, the incredible friends I met, and utterly relieved to be back in Chiang Mai, where I can ride my bicycle everywhere, eat fruit smoothies from street stalls, and drink yummy hot lattes at any corner. Oh, and run into awesome people every few minutes when out and about. And…

So much to LOVE!

Jogging the globe

Jogging is a go-to escape for me whenever I feel down or stressed. Feeling the power of my body, the forward momentum, the fresh – or polluted – outside air… it all adds up to an increase in perspective and personal power.

I almost always make a point to bring my sneakers with me (Asics loyalty forever!) wherever I am. If I feel anxious or out of place, a good jog around my new temporary home immediately gives me a greater sense of connection with my surroundings. These are some of the special places where I’ve pounded the pavement, dirt, cobblestone, and grass over the past year. Smiles n’s sweat…

This is not Huay Tung Tao but another beautiful area outside Chiang Mai. There are really so many lovely spots here...

This is not Huay Tung Tao but another beautiful area outside Chiang Mai. There are really so many lovely spots here…

Chiang Mai. The route around the moat is straightforward enough (hello, I am a square) that it is literally impossible to lose your way. Quite opposite to the twisty sois that lie inside the old city. The city is polluted, hot, sticky. I drive out to Huay Tung Tao lake for car-less, noise-less jogging. Fresh air fills my lungs, natural beauty all around the long ring. Paradise.

Surreal scenery + sunshine = happy times

Surreal scenery + sunshine = happy times

Hampi, southern India. Surreal scenery with giant boulders and expansive fluorescent-green rice paddies surrounding from all angles. Quadrophenia soundtrack in headphones, high heeled sneakers not so much. I’m One, love reign o’er me… Fantastical, yes please. Where am I?

Along the Arabian Sea side

Along the Arabian Sea side, Dahab

I run along the edge of the Arabian Sea in Dahab, Egypt – one of the ways I gain space from the shopkeepers constantly hounding me to buy things, and the general sexual harassment. Turning left out of my guesthouse, the hard paved strip, lined with restaurants, hurts my knees. Finally hit the beach with soft sand beneath my soles. I frequently forget to leave before 5pm at high tide. Dash through the water, soak my socks and shoes, grinning with glee. A quick glance out across the water shows small, precise patches of bright turquoise green standing out among the navy liquid canvas. Further on, the orange desert cliffs become the backdrop, as the odd camel or two trudges along with dog and herder in tow.

Don't run on the cobblestone!

Don’t run on the cobblestone!

Prague is a city I cannot live in long-term for several reasons. A simple one is because it’s sidewalks are covered in cobble-stone. A runner’s nightmare, if they have bad joints and bones. I manage a few spurts along the riverside, entirely idyllic what with the swans floating by, sun setting against the old bridges, lovers strolling along holding hands. Europe, you are too much! A week of this and my knees are shot to the point where I physically can’t walk for a day. My shoes are also gobbled by the cobble.

In Kampala, they say if you drive straight, you're drunk (because there are so many potholes scattered along the roads)...

In Kampala, they say if you drive straight, you’re drunk (because there are so many potholes scattered along the roads)…

Crazy Kampala, Uganda. Cars here, motorcycles there, goats to this side and that, men shouting “muzungu! how are you!”, dogs lying, furniture selling, bananas on heads, lorries whizzing, bicycles rolling, food carts cooking. I wonder if I am the only silly white person to run along these city streets in the heat, in the pollution, the yells, the traffic dodging. Seeing another muzungu jogging by – much faster than I – proves that at least I am not alone. I love the feeling, sun on skin, pounding pavement, headphones in ears. Fuck yes.  Sweat drips, lungs constrict, nostrils flare at the gasoline exhaled by the always passing boda bodas.

And I think… I love to run.

Each country..

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – LeoTolstoy, Anna Karenina

Totally altering that quote to fit my life goes like this:Countries are all alike; each country is crazy in its own way.

When I lived in Thailand, I often felt like the country was crazy. I mean, it is. To me. There is an acronym there used among foreigners, TIT – This Is Thailand. As in, what did you expect? This is Thailand, baby! It really takes living there (and, in my opinion, working there) to truly even begin to see the myriad differences, let alone understand them.

As I was getting ready to go to Germany, I asked around about the requirements for obtaining an artist freelance visa. One of them is having valid insurance by a German provider.

After dealing with my twenty questions (because, geez, insurance is bloody complicated!) my potential insurer ended up providing me with a truly invaluable service – giving an inside glimpse at the nonsensical rules + regulations of the bureaucratic world of German insurance. This is from one of his emails.

Just today: Client told that cover for pregnancy, premature baby and congenital conditions is compulsory!   The client is a 65 year old man who has had a vasectomy!

Female who has pregnancy cover in a group scheme.  Her husband and her new born child must also have the same cover because it is a group scheme!

Last week: A gay male couple in an official Civil Partnership were told that as Civil partnerships now qualify for the same benefits as a heterosexual marriage, including child benefits etc., then one of them had to have pregnancy cover – they should decide which one themselves!

A gay female couple were told the same and even offered IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) or AID (Artificial Insemination by Donor) – but not a male partner!

At first I thought, gee, maybe Thailand isn’t so crazy after all! Then I realized that, no, Thailand is totally crazy. Like how each person boasts their own unique brand of insanity, each country is insane in their own way. You just need to get a feel for the country’s particular brand of insanity and see whether it fits with (or, better yet, complements) your own. I don’t think I’ve found my country-mate yet, but I have a feeling that it might take a combination of two or three to make a satisfying match for me at the moment.

Compromise, patience, understanding = Words of the year!

Link

Here is my photo essay on healing practices and festivals in Chiang Mai. Check it out to see images from Yee Peng (the lantern ceremony), Loy Krathong, Dance Mandala and Qi Gong.

Thai Qi

Click here for more images.

My friend, Sachie, teaches medical qi gong in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Qi gong has long been used as one of the foundations for martial arts. Medical qi gong uses the same energy practices but focuses the power generated towards healing rather than towards killing your enemies. I’ve attended several of her classes and can attest to the healing power of the first three poses. After the classes I felt grounded and more steady in myself. I can only imagine the strength that can be gained from learning all seven!

I’ve had the privilege of doing several photo shoots with Sachie to document her practice of this ancient healing tradition. Watching her move around the room was entrancing; I could feel the energy created by her movements and breathing. It was an honour to witness.

During our most recent shoot at Chiang Mai University, we were lucky enough to stumble across a recently installed art sculpture hanging from the trees in one of the campus’s many forested areas. The ephemeral installation made of white string tied together suggested the shape of a house-like structure. Hanging above ground, it swayed easily in the wind, flowing in whatever direction the wind chose to breathe. The eloquent piece struck us as a metaphor for the strength and beauty inherent in fragility: Though completely exposed, transparent even, the house of string is able to move gracefully in the harshest rains or winds. The installation also shares these characteristics with the medical qi gong practice itself, creating the sense that the structure was a manifestation, of sorts, of the ancient tradition. Because of this, we eagerly took the liberty of using the stringed shelter as the setting of Sachie’s shoot. Our gratitude for the fortuitous appearance of this magical tree-house was palpable.

I felt the stringed sculpture’s affects resonate inside me the rest of they day. Art is able to surprise and to teach in ways that other mediums simply cannot. It is the lack of clarity and total openness (no words, no explanation, no logic, no reason) in a work like this that provide space for deeper understanding to occur. Through my experience of the piece, wandering in and out, touching, moving through its long dangling arms, wings or walls, I connected anew with the environment around me. I saw the forest and myself differently that day in that transient tree-house. The white structure was no longer just string hanging from trees (if it ever was); it co-created my inner experience, drawing my attention to how I interact with my surroundings and myself.

Art pulls at our emotions, no doubt. We can choose to link these emotional experiences with critical thinking and lead ourselves toward new perspectives about ourselves and others. Art, at its core, helps us to facilitate our own engagement, interpretation and understanding of the world.

Vichian Boonmeemak

Below is my interview with Thai abstract artist Vichian Boonmeemak and his Chiang Mai art studio-meets-guesthouse, The Living Place. The article was published in Chiang Mai Mail November 4, 2012.

For more images, please click here!

Interview: Vichian Boonmeemak

The police have called twice so far. But that doesn’t stop the group of foreigners and Thais gathering together every Friday night at The Living Place to sate their desires for banging on bongos. In addition to drumming, these lively evenings consist of everything from nude modeling, body painting and dancing to homemade Thai food and drinks. With free entrance and cheap beer, The Living Place is a great place to chill, make music and meet free-spirited travelers and locals alike.

Anything goes and all are welcome. Painter Vichian Boonmeemak and his partner, artist Aresa Wuthanamassapong, have created a space that aims to collage together all aspects of passion-filled life: art, music, people, food, and performance. On constant display are works by both Vichian and Aree, rotated and changed frequently. These abstract and figurative works are bright and bold, ranging broadly in size. Small prints and cards sell for 30B and larger works are also for sale, priced accordingly.

Born in Northeast Thailand, in the Petchaboon province, Vichian, or “V” as his friends call him, is a talented and easy-going guy. He was kind enough to sit down with me to chat about The Living Place and share some of his insights about being an abstract painter in Thailand.

KB: What gave you and Aree the idea to open The Living Place?

VB: Well, we were looking for a warehouse to set up a studio in and we didn’t have any luck finding one. We had friends who had a guesthouse and the idea of combining everything happened. With painting, we combine everything – we do drawing, painting and collage. So with life we can do everything too.”

KB: How did the Friday nights originate?

VB: We started with jamming outdoors at Thapae gate. We were social there for a long time and we met so many people around the world. We met some great drummers and dancers who would come. One house around there reported the noise to the city and we got stopped by the cops. So we moved the jam into our own building and the drummers came to join it. Besides painting, we want to hang out and enjoy ourselves.

KB: What role does music play in your life?

VB: Music is a universal language to communicate. Sometimes we don’t have to use words; we just have to share the rhythm, share the harmony. Drums are a good thing. I want to do better so I need to have instruments and people who know drums around so that I can learn from them. Some who play here are very professional and they are great teachers. Sometimes the cops still come if it’s too loud. I think we’re going to do more independent stuff in our private space, like the life modeling.

KB: Can you recall when art first came into your life?

VB: As a child, I loved to do art, sculpture, drawing and painting. I’d paint everywhere, the door, the walls of the hosue. My parents let me be at the time. I used to go down to the river and pick up the clay and make sculptures. It’s amazing how it felt, what it did to me. I remember feeling really joyful. At the time, I was around 6 or 7, and since then I’ve always liked to draw.

KB: Did you parents support your artistic expression as you grew older?

VB: I grew up in a farm household. My parents were not artists. They supported me, but they knew what made money. They thought it would be good for me to be a forest ranger, policeman or doctor – whoever makes good money. I’m just not interested in that and I said I’m going to study art. There was nothing they could do, so they let me go. I came to Chiang Mai from Petchaboon to study art at a good school here. After that I went to art academy in San Francisco.

KB: What was your experience in San Francisco?

VB: Oh, I loved it. At first, I had a problem with the language, but I knew it was something I had to do. What I remember from the college is that they just let me work and find my own way of being. I noticed that I could focus a lot more when I was there. Maybe because I’m not local there, I have to pay more attention to what I’m doing.

KB: Many artists find it challenging to make a living. What has been your experience?

VB: Well, I’m still alive! I’m not afraid to have less or more. If I can do good work, if I’m satisfied with my work, I feel fulfilled. And that’s all. Everything else doesn’t matter. It’s nonsense. I don’t give importance to anything else.

KB: What inspires you as a painter?

VB: I like abstract and figurative work, both sides of it. I like spontaneous stuff, things that are unexpected. When I see work controlled by the mind, it does not inspire me. Every moment in painting is just like life, you are working on every moment. Each moment is lost and found, always continuing, always challenging. It’s not there forever. It’s good to work for that. That’s what I gain from the experience.

KB: Do you consider painting work or play?

VB: It’s creating. Work, yes, but I want to have fun from it. I’m searching for the joy in work, and to just enjoy it while I’m working. If I don’t enjoy it, I’m not going to do it.
It’s like meditation. When you get into at first, you are struggling for a bit to get into it. You are struggling with how to feel comfortable sitting in the posture and while you are working on that, you somehow get into another flowing energy. And that is what painting is like. You try and then suddenly you break through trying. That is the fun part, when you don’t care anymore. You are one with the flow and communicating on a higher level with the space and with everything.

KB: Do you find painting healing?

VB: Definitely. It helps to open your mind, your heart. It is what you ask for. You are confronted and challenged to break through barriers. I feel liberated and free to practice through the process, yes. Whatever painting can do, I want to live my life like that. It’s a very important metaphor. The truth seeker – when you find the truth in a painting, you learn and you live your life for that. So each technique, each expression, each spontaneous moment, you learn something from that. You need to practice and be able to get inspired to live life. You learn so much through practicing.
Often we get trapped in our mindsets and get the habit of correcting the world. But if your heart and act are one, the whole truth will come through the brushstroke. Your senses and body chemistry change when you contact through the work. This flowing energy will show in your work, it’s another language. Whatever your message, if you believe in something, it has to go through something to make a record of it. That is what painting is, or dance, or drumming, whatever your expression is.”

The Living Place: Opened recently in August 2012, this Chiang Mai guesthouse-meets-art studio hosts Friday evenings of music, dance and art, and provides a warm environment conducive to conversation, art creation and just being.
To stay at The Living Place, get in touch with Aree via Facebook
Location: 2/2Thapea Rd. Soi2, Muang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50300 Ph: 081 539 9676