Tribal Trappings – Asian Ethnic Art, Artifacts, Textiles and Folk Art Tribal Trappings – Thoughts about Thailand, Chiang Mai, things tribal including textiles, artifacts and folk art <data:blog.pageTitle/>

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Secret Lamphun- 'Salak Yom' Festival

The full moon in mid-late September marks the Tai Yong merit-making festival called 'Salak Yom'. We happened on this colorful event several years ago, not knowing its purpose or name. Only this year have we learned its name and the details. A small Tai Yong population is concentrated in the Lamphun area and the largest and most elaborate manifestation of this celebration is held at the venerable Wat Haripunchai, in the middle of town. It entails the creation of 'trees' by unmarried young women, which are embellished with gifts for the temple and monks for the purpose of making merit. In old times these gifts included gold and silver, but now the custom has evolved to include practical, everyday necessities such as detergent, soup spoons, toilet paper, soap, etc. Money is also included, but in the form of colorful Thai Baht notes. Some of the trees reach a height of 30-40 feet and are wired to prevent toppling in seasonal wind gusts.

 Taking days to construct and erect, the trees draw large crowds both during construction and for the festival. We arrived on the final day, when the temple was thronged with worshippers and monks alike.

 Color and abundance were the themes du jour and the bright midday sun enhanced it brilliantly. 

 At the base of every tree there was a very creative display incorporating symbols of plentitude and piety. Flowers were prolific, as were fish nets and fish traps, for some unexplained reason. These little monk statues also seem to be a new trend, often adorned with eyeglasses (the better to study the manuscripts?).

 These peacocks are made of folded leaves, with flower accents.

Fruit and vegetable displays probably manifested wishes for, or thanks for, plentiful food supplies. Here, yard-long beans are used to great effect under a 'hat' of small eggplants and chilis.

This lively creature is a mythical beast known as 'mawm' and is often seen guarding the entrance to a temple building. This one is covered in scales made of folder paper.


The local Karen tribal people came dressed in their most colorful outfits and fit in beautifully.


And no temple festival is complete without a wide selection of food- including a table full of bugs! 
With signs in English, no less.

If you find yourself in Chiang Mai in September, do mark your calendar for this unique festival - See you there!

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Website down

Just a quick note to say that our website is temporarily down due to technical problems beyond our control. We are working on it and if the computer and weather gods work together, we may get it back up by tomorrow (have already been delayed by a power outage from weather). If you need to email me, use my Yahoo address.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Jai Yong- The Real Deal

Huen Jai Yong embodies the reinvention of Lan Na- in all its positive manifestations. A family-run eating establishment, serving real northern Thai food, it is also an artistic haven. The vision behind its new art gallery is Lipikorn Makaew- painter, musician and maker of traditional musical instruments, notably the 'pin pia', a chest-resonated "stick zither" which some consider the "national instrument of Thailand". (Below is a photo from 2010 of Khun Lipikorn demonstrating the instrument.)

The restaurant is spread out among several buildings which evoke an old Thai village in their materials and arrangement with intermittent vistas of greenery. Paintings adorn the walls and in one area old water jugs hang from the ceiling in the traditional way. The menu is a paper checklist of several dozen items, all in Thai so bring someone who can translate. We've been tempted to start at the top and work our way down, leaving it to serendipity. Do not, however, miss their version of 'gaeng Hunglay' (Hunglay curry)- we often end up ordering two dishes to satisfy our craving. The meal must also be accompanied by 'khao niao', or sticky rice, a northern Thai staple. Typically a meal consists of a basket of sticky rice which is then flavored by dipping into the various small dishes of meat, soups and vegetables. You will not go away hungry if the 'khao niao' is consumed- it fills in all the gaps and keeps you sated for hours. The rest is just spice for the rice.

Venture down the brick path between the buildings to a small footbridge behind the restaurant, and the new gallery and art compound presents itself. Some fun sculptures made with basket materials greeted us as we crossed the bridge (above).

Inside the gallery Khun Lipikorn has a small, well-displayed exhibition of antique, traditional 'seua yan', or yantra shirts, which used to be worn for protection from malevolent forces and have now mostly been replaced by 'sak yant' (tattoos). These shirts were his inspiration for the half dozen outfits displayed in black and white pairs down the center of the space. He has painted and drawn his own version of protective iconography on these in red, black, white and gold.

The surrounding buildings include exhibition space and some other artists' works, private dining rooms, and a small shop with locally produced goods for sale. 

By noon the cars are parking on the main road and the tables are mostly filled, so it pays to either come early or later, after the midday rush, tho before 4pm when it closes. You will find the restaurant on the 'new San Kamphaeng road', which is the eastern extension of the Mahidol highway which ends at the west at the airport. From Chiang Mai head east and go past the turn off to Bawsang; make a U-turn at the turnoff to San Kamphaeng and the restaurant entrance is on the south side with a large tree (and probably lots of cars) marking the street.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Facebook: A Like/Hate Relationship

Am I the only one who feels like they've digressed back to elementary or junior high school when using Facebook? Why does hitting the 'Like' button feel like a silly way to communicate approval or interest in something? Why does the number of 'Friends' seem like a tally in a juvenile competition? Why does the brevity of comments seem superficial and banal? Why indeed should I add 'Friends' who I not only do not know personally, but cannot even pronounce their names sometimes? And why in the world would I want to post my personal history, along with information about family members, etc. on this most un-private of websites?

I only joined Facebook to try to re-connect with old friends and clients with whom I'd lost contact. But I find that perhaps it is not worth opening myself up to forms of scrutiny that I may not even know about. I'm sure the CIA and FBI thank Mark Zuckerberg, or whomever really created Facebook, since it helps them connect the dots better than many other forms of intelligence.

To those who say "Why would anyone want to bother with me and my information?", I feel compelled to remind them that police states collect this kind of information on anyone and everyone; it is then available to be used when necessary. You may never see it coming.

The recent purchase of the blog site Tumblr by Yahoo for over $1 Billion sends the point home that data-mining is big business. Tumblr acquired a loyal following by not having advertising. So why would Yahoo pay so much for a site that has little if any income? Information acquisition, or data-mining, is the reason. Plus, Yahoo will probably monetize it in the future. Truthdig has a good piece on this:/

We should all think twice before posting personal information online. There is NO privacy, contrary to what a site may say. How many of us read all the fine print anyway, before clicking "I accept"? We are being followed and our viewing and buying patterns are documented and sold and used by entities without our knowledge. Facebook just enables Big Brother as we enable Facebook. Time to rethink this monster.

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Spirited Away

Yesterday was evidently an auspicious day, as the Old Cultural Center on Wualai Road hosted a spirit appeasment ceremony. Lasting all day, these  uncommon events attract local shaman of all persuasions and are a great opportunity to learn about customs and culture of this area. I missed this one, but was able to attend the one at the Lan Na Old House Museum last year at this time. The course of events is similar, so I thought I'd share those photos, which did not get posted last year.

It starts with offerings to the spirits of the site: food, libations (rice wine here and young coconut water), flowers, etc. Dancing followed and the rice wine flowed, taking everyone to a mellow state. Some enhanced the trance with a swing on a suspended cloth, round and round until they collapsed.

After lunch, the afternoon was spent entertaining the spirits with symbolic activities such as 'horse' riding, fishing, catching elephants, etc. Other appointments kept me from returning, so sadly, no photos of shaman tackling elephants to amuse the spirits.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Ancient Ruins Made to Order

Sunday found us at Baan Phorliang Meun's Terra Cotta Arts garden on the outskirts of Lamphun, thanks to an excursion arranged by the Classic Cars of Lanna, to which we belong. An hourlong drive south along the west side of the Ping River took us to the garden, where we wound our way along lanes flanked by tropical foliage, and then parked - a dozen or so 'classics' gleaming in the noonday sun. After unloading picnic fare we were able to admire the surroundings: nicely built brick buildings flanking large rectangular pools of water, not dissimilar to the 'barays' of Angkor Wat. Some of the trees had labels in Thai, English and Latin, as befitting a botanical garden, to which this one aspires; the entry sign called it a Thai Medicinal Plant Garden, as well as a site of Terra Cotta Arts. The garden's brochure states that it comprises 155 rai, but we were told it is actually over 300.- quite a vast site of about 100 acres. This is where they dig up the clay and make their figures and friezes as seen in their Chiang Mai showroom and garden; a veritable three-dimensional textbook on Asian art, it is a favorite haunt of mine.

 Classic cars of Lanna

After lunch a short walking tour to a nearby 'chedi' that was under construction constituted our tour of the site. Incorporating a relic of the Buddha, the second story of the chedi was off limits to women. Completion of the structure was forecast for late this year or next. The style was inspired by Haripunchai structures/ruins in nearby Lamphun, which pre-dated Chiang Mai by over 400 years.

As we left, we passed other structures peeking out of verdant tropical settings. A sense of having not seen all there is here will no doubt bring us back for more.

note scale figure 

A Haripunchai 'pediment'

Order of motifs on temple base

Simple spirit house 

Nice corner detail of elephants

Large chunks of ornament utilizing copious quantities of clay

A small 'army' of figures on plaques awaiting use

Buddha heads awaiting positioning

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Fresh Hell is This?!

I have wanted to use this great Dorothy Parker quote for a long time, and indeed now have the most appropriate of reasons: in July I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And so it all began- a major detour on my life's journey, to use an obvious cliche which really does fit. I consider it a detour, not the end of the journey. And from all I've read, attitude is everything.

I'll spare you all the details, trials and tribulations, but will say that this disease is unpredictable in most instances and for me, as others, provokes the big question of "Why me?".  I will never know. But I do know that had I done regular, proper self-exams I would probably have caught it much earlier than I did. Even if you get annual mammograms, a lump can show up in the twelve months between scans. It's pretty well agreed that the earlier it is found, the better the prognosis. So I hope my lady friends will take heed of this and give serious thought to those exams.

Breast cancers wear many faces, so to speak. It is a complex issue and each woman's options can be very different. My tumor was excised and the prognosis is fairly good. I chose to not have chemotherapy, but am able to make use of the multi-year anti-estrogen medications recently developed. Recovery from the surgery has been slower than expected, but has been aided considerably by the support of my husband and good friends here and abroad. I am now feeling well and have begun an exercise program, along with some dietary changes. I hope to soon make use of hypnosis and meditation to further my healing and keep any possible metastases at bay. I don't pretend to have all the answers, or even assume I've made all the right decisions, but I've dug through vast amounts of information, some good, some not so good, considered various doctors' advice and come up with what I'm comfortable with. Life is good and I intend to keep it that way!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Much ado about very little

Today's news includes mention of a very special dress made for a brief appearance on Charlize Theron in a cinematic remake of Snow White. The article goes on about how it's made of "dung beetle" shells from a flea market in Thailand, and about how difficult they were to work with. What a bunch of dung! For starters, the beetles in Thailand are not dung beetles: they are 'sternocera aequisignata', also known as "jewel beetle". It is a wood-boring beetle found in the mountains near the Thai/Burma border. Among the people inhabiting this area are the Karen/Karean and they often decorate their weavings, especially the 'singing shawls', and baskets with the wing cases of these beetles. On a visit to some Karen villages one September we remember vividly these flying critters coming out at night, having been drawn to our lights. They were about two inches long and made quite a bit of noise as they hit hard surfaces. We have one of the large Karen baskets from Sop Moei (AC210)with some of the wings attached; they are a beautiful iridescent green/blue with gold highlights. I have also used them on a necklace- see JSS468. The article goes on to say how sharp they are ("treacherous") and required gloves for some of the seamstresses to handle them. Puleeeeze! They do have points, but if they were so sharp, why would they be used in jewelry? Evidently there is a long history of these wings being used for jewelry, apparel embellishment and even interior design: the Royal Palace in Belgium has a ceiling and chandelier decorated with them by a modern designer. Methinks the media has done a bit of embellishment themselves.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cheers to the New Year! Part 1

Dear Reader, for you I girded my loins and went into battle, armed with only my camera and a smile, on this, the first day of the Water Wars.

Known as Songkran, or Thai New Year, it is an annual display of wet merriment and mayhem (tho this year the merriment may have been curtailed somewhat by the banning of alcohol). The water, however was freely flowing and almost everyone was armed.

Enjoy from the dry comfort of your home and try to imagine being soaking wet in 100 degree heat-it's not too bad actually, especially if you're properly prepared.

May the games begin!

In this battle size didn't matter,

especially if you had a backpack water tank...

Where's Tigger?

There's Tigger!

Hello Kitty! But of course... a monkey on her back...

...and an elephant on his chest...

...or came as a Water Warrior

And for that 'je ne sais quoi', weird headgear seemed to be the must-have accessory this year...

For those just passing through and unarmed, it was necessary to have proper armor:
rain poncho, socks, and gloves(!) nothing was sacred and nobody spared

But this is just the beginning. See Part 2 for the parade of Buddhas.

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