Tag Archives: Chiang Mai

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.


“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!


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.

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