Category Archives: Thailand

He Just Disappeared !

For several weeks now the media here in Winnipeg has carried stories about a woman who simply disappeared one morning when she went for a walk.  

The news story reminds me of my visit to the Jim Thompson home in Bangkok, Thailand.  Jim too simply disappeared one morning while going for a walk.  Thompson, an architect from Delaware, was sent to Thailand as a military intelligence officer during World War II. Enamored with the exotic locale, he returned there immediately after being discharged.

During the coming years, Thompson would successfully revive a dying art in Thailand. Colorful hand-woven silks had once been a prized part of Thai culture but by the late 1940s were gradually being pushed aside by mass production. Thompson set out to change that. Armed with samples of genuine silks made by local Bangkok craftswomen he went to New York where he caught the eye of major fashion designers. Soon Thai silk was all the rage. Valentino, the dress designer began fashioning clothing with the material, raving about its luster and texture. The costume designer for the movie The King and I used Thai silk to create the outfits for the all the actors. Big hotel chains like the Hilton and Savoy featured draperies made from Thai silk. The industry took off and continues to flourish. Today more than 20,000 families in Thailand make their living weaving silk for an international market

Though busy with his new enterprise in the fabric industry, Thompson was still an architect at heart, and set about fashioning a unique home for himself in Bangkok. He purchased six old teak Thai houses decorated with hand carvings and designs. He connected them all together on a thickly- treed area of jungle land he purchased right on one of Bangkok’s famous canals. Like all traditional Thai houses his stood on stilts high above the ground. Thompson proceeded to use the substantial wealth he was accruing from his silk business to fill this home with Asian art and antiquities. Soon his collection was to be envied world-wide.

Then in 1967 Thompson was vacationing in Malaysia with friends. One afternoon he set off on a walk and never returned. No evidence has ever been found to suggest what could have happened to him. Theories abound of course. Was he eaten by a tiger? Did slip down into a ravine and drown? Was he kidnapped and died before a ransom could be demanded? Did he just want a new life? His military intelligence training would have served him well in a bid to simply disappear and re-locate. The mystery has never been solved and adds an extra air of intrigue to the Jim Thompson house.

These women welcomed us to the JIm Thompson house

These women welcomed us to the Jim Thompson house and happily posed while I took their photo

Today Thompson’s home has been turned into a museum by the Kingdom of Thailand. Lovely young women, wearing Thompson designed silk skirts and blouses and fluent in many languages, guide you through the carefully preserved series of houses. 

Thompson is something of a hero in Bangkok. He was instrumental in boosting the economy a half century ago by introducing Thai silk to the world. Despite of, or perhaps because of, his mysterious disappearance he continues to be a financial asset to Thailand as his art collection, lovely home and interesting life story draw people from around the world to Bangkok.

Other posts about Thailand…….

Monk Chat

A Giant Recycling Project

Wave

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Ten Abandonded Places

My friend Michelle, who lives in Hong Kong often posts photos of abandoned places she comes upon in the city. Another Facebook friend Jim from Pennyslvania, takes photos of abandoned buildings. Jim and Michelle inspired me to look back through my photos searching for abandoned places  I have photographed.

I was visiting Herschel Saskatachewan doing research for a novel when I photographed this abandoned barn

I was visiting Herschel Saskatachewan doing research for a novel in the fall of 2012 when I photographed this abandoned barn

This is only one of hundreds of unfinished and abandoned homes we saw in Jamaica

This is only one of many unfinished and abandoned homes I photographed in Jamaica in January of 2014

We were on a trip to Savannah Georgia when I photographed this abandoned house

On a trip to Savannah Georgia in 2006 I photographed this abandoned house

I chaperoned a student trip to Cambodia in 2011 and photographed this abandoned temple in Angkor Wat

I chaperoned a student trip to Cambodia in 2011 and photographed this abandoned temple in Angkor Wat

Of course the buildings in Pompei Italy were abandoned for good reason as I discovered on a 2010 trip to Italy

Of course the buildings in Pompei Italy were abandoned for good reason as I discovered on a 2010 trip to Italy

While biking in Yangshou China in 2005 I photographed this abandoned house

While biking in Yangshou China in 2005 I photographed this abandoned house

We drove by this abandoned windmill in 2011 in Ukraine. It was built by Mennonites.

We drove by this abandoned windmill in 2011 in Ukraine. It was built by Mennonites.

In 2013 we visited the abandoned cliff dwellings of the Salado people built in the 1300s in the Tonto Forest in Arizona

In 2013 we visited the abandoned cliff dwellings of the Salado people built in the 1300s in the Tonto Forest area of Arizona

In November of 2010 when we visited Bangkok I photographed this abandoned graveyard overgrown with weeds

In November of 2010 we visited Bangkok and I photographed this abandoned graveyard overgrown with weeds

 

Other 10 Posts

Ten Things I’ll Remember About the Ballet Going Home Star

Ten Favorite Things About Arizona So Far

Ten Remembrance Day Images

Ten Things About Tulum

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Filed under Arizona, Herschel, Italy, Mexico, Nature, Reflections, Thailand, Ukraine

A Giant Recycling Project- The Temple of Dawn in Bangkok

temple of dawn bangkok towerI thought I’d never reach the top when I climbed the huge tower at the centre of the Temple of Dawn in Bangkok. Built in the 1700s by King Taskin the tower reaches more than 79 meters upward and features steep stairs that are said to lead all the way to heaven.

Me standing outside the Temple of Dawn

Me standing outside the Temple of Dawn

The outside of the tall tower is covered with millions of broken bits of porcelain. They have been arranged into intricate patterns and pictures in a way that is incredibly lovely and required gifted artists to design.

My friend Anna and I pose in cutouts at the Temple of Dawn

My friend Anna and I pose in cutouts at the Temple of Dawn

I learned that ships coming to Bangkok from China centuries ago carried two valuable exports for sale, tea and silk. The tea and silk needed to be carried in the middle sections of the ships because they were sensitive to the water damage that could occur in the upper and lower sections. But to balance the boat so it could sail properly about half of the cargo’s weight needed to be below the waterline in the ship’s bilge. temple of dawn bangkok porcelainChinese porcelain dishes were the perfect solution. They were not susceptible to water damage. They were sufficiently heavy and could be produced cheaply. Often however storms and high waves caused the porcelain to break, leaving the boats’ holds filled with mountains of pottery shards. What to do with the pieces? King Taskin knew. He had his royal artists and craftsmen use them to decorate his now famous temple tower. temple of dawn bangkok detailThey put wet plaster on the exterior and then imbedded the porcelain in complicated designs and patterns. They also created beautiful nature scenes with the bits of colorful pottery. Taskin had probably never heard of recycling but he certainly knew how to do it in a big way.

temple of dawn bangkok Walking slowly around the temple’s first level and looking at all the lovely artwork that had been created out of the colorful porcelain it was almost impossible for me to imagine the endless hours of labor that would go into such a project. What an amazing recycling project!

Other posts about Thailand…..

Monk Chat

Thai Traditions to End and Start a Year

Wave

Is Asia Still Authentic?

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Filed under Art, Thailand, Travel

Wave

wave by sonali deraniyagalaThe pages of Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala grew heavier and heavier. Half way through the book I almost couldn’t bear to turn them.  Sonali’s grief is palpable in every sentence and the weight of her anguish made it impossible for me to read more than a chapter of her story at at time. 

We learn right from the beginning of the book that Sonali, a professor at Columbia University in New York,  lost her parents, husband and two young sons in 2004 when the tsunami swept through the Sri Lankan resort where they were holidaying.  She survives by clinging to a branch after being swept for miles in a torrent of water. Later she can’t fathom why she ever grabbed onto that branch. With so many people she loved dead, she wishes she was too. Her friends and family are on suicide watch for many months.

Photo I took of a Thai family on the beach after the tsunami

Photo I took of a Thai family on the beach in Phuket after the tsunami

The section of the book that resonated with me were the passages of ‘what if’s.’  Sonali thinks of all the alternate decisions she and her family could have made leading up to the tsunami that would have kept them safe. My family and I were in Phuket when the tsunami struck and I too spent months grappling with the ‘what if’s.’  There were so many decisions big and small that we had made which kept us safe. Any one of those many choices, which seemed unimportant at the time, could have placed us right in the path of the wave like Sonali’s family. 

Sonali’s story goes forward year by year after the tsunami and with each passing one she is able to resurrect more memories. But the story also goes back because as she remembers we are given a window into what her life was like before the tsunami and we come to know her husband, parents and children with all their gifts and foibles in an intimate way. This makes their death seem all the more tragic and Sonali’s grief becomes even more real to us. 

Workers cleaning up in Phuket after tsunami 2004

Workers cleaning up in Phuket after tsunami 2004

For many years after 2004 our family members were frequently identified as tsunami survivors. Even now a decade later people will ask us about it. I suspect being a 2004 tsunami survivor is something that marks you for life. It certainly has marked Sonali with a heavy burden. It is a burden that weighs down anyone who reads her book because Sonali’s evocative and spare writing style leaves you no choice.  Hopefully sharing her story with others has lightened Sonali’s burden at least a little bit. 

Other posts about books……..

Four Reasons To Read The Light Between Oceans

The Long Song

Flight Behavior- I’m Back in the Barbara Kingsolver Fan Club

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Is Asia Still Authentic?

Here’s a piece I wrote after a visit to Chaing Mai Thailand a number of years ago.

Woman making umbrellas for tourists in chiang mai

 A woman making paper umbrellas for tourists in Chiang Mai

“Asia is no longer authentic. Modern barbarians and mass tourism are destroying it. “  Denis Gray, Associate Press Bureau Chief in Bangkok made that comment during an interview with a reporter from the Bangkok Post. I read the article about Gray during my visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Mr. Gray has had a vacation home in Chiang Mai for twenty years and bemoans the fact that Western business interests have completely taken over the area with their “ relentless greed and materialism.” 

     I can understand what Mr. Gray is talking about. I went to Chiang Mai on a golfing holiday and noted the ‘westernization’ and altered landscape of the area. Acres of jungle have been hacked down to create space for fairways, clubhouses and high- end spas and golf resorts.  

      Friends who traveled to northern Thailand decades ago say it was a jungle paradise. You could hike just outside Chiang Mai and find hill tribes villages where people lived much as they had for hundreds of years. Each tribe had its own unique dress, customs and was self-sustaining. In the last ten years, literally millions of tourists interested in seeing the traditional way of life in these hill tribes’ settlements have altered that way of life forever.

Performers at the Loy Krathong show

Performers at the Loy Krathong show

Chiang Mai now has a Starbucks, a McDonalds and a Holiday Inn. It also has a great deal of street garbage and its river is black with pollutants. Many of the rituals and ceremonies of the local people have become commercialized performances which tourists are charged money to attend. The tribal women come into Chiang Mai to sell their hand made products to visitors from around the world. Crafts are now produced in ‘factories’ especially set up so tourists can watch as they are created step by step. We were on a ‘packaged’ golf tour in Chiang Mai. Consequently we were ferried to several of these ‘factories’ before each round of golf to watch the staged production of jewelry, silk, ceramics and paper umbrellas. I felt uncomfortable viewing these talented people give a ‘fake performance’ of their skilled labor, staged primarily to convince potential customers to buy their wares.

Female golf caddies in Chiang Mai

Female golf caddies in Chiang Mai

     The golf courses in Chiang Mai were lovely. Each golfer was provided with a caddy, a local Chiang Mai woman, who had been taught enough English to tell you your yardage after each shot, and whether your ball would break to the left or right when you putted. The women were dressed in immaculate mauve and white uniforms. They smiled politely and helped you select which golf club to use for each shot, and carefully cleaned your club after every use. I wondered if before becoming golf caddies these women had lived an agrarian existence in a village attending to the needs of their families and participating in the traditions of their tribe. Were they happier then or do they prefer their present life with more modern conveniences and a steady source of income to support their families? people say tourism has been a boon to Thailand, improving the economy and the transportation system. Tourism however has also brought a thriving sex trade, AIDS, pollution, a depletion of natural resources, a changed landscape and has permanently altered the traditional way of life of the hill tribes people of Thailand. 

        I wonder if I a few years from now Chiang Mai will be distinguishable from any  typical American tourist spot. Will there be a theme park or museum you will need to visit if you want to see how traditional Thai people lived? 

Other posts about Chiang Mai……

Monk Chat

Loy Krathong

         

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Monk Chat

monk in chaing maiOn one of our many trips to Thailand I spent time chatting with Puttatammo Photilath, a monk studying at the Buddhist University in Chiang Mai.  The university invites students who are learning English to take turns sitting outside Wat Prah Singh, a Buddhist temple. Visitors can join the monks and ask questions about their life. It’s a great way for the monks to practice English and for the tourists to learn more about Buddhism. Monks in Thailand are easily recognized because of their bright orange robes and closely shaved heads.temple in thailand

Puttatammo is twenty-two years old and was born in Laos. He left his parents’ home at age seven to become a temple assistant. He lived and worked at a Buddhist temple for three years until he was old enough to become a novice monk. He was ordained at age ten.  The country of Laos does not have a Buddhist university so Puttatammo came to Chiang Mai to further his education.

Puttatammo’s parents live in a small Laotian village far from the temple where he trained to be a monk.  He has not seen them since he was seven. He can’t write them letters because his parents, who are in their sixties, are illiterate. He phones them periodically and after he graduates from university he will finally be able to visit them. His parents have a small rice farm. residence for buddhist asian monksThey are very proud of their son, because as a monk he has the opportunity to get an education. Puttatammo tells me in Laos only the children of poor people become monks. Parents know if their son is a monk he will have a good home, enough to eat and get a good education.

       temple in chiang mai thailandPuttatammo majors in English at the university but is also studying economics and politics. He lives at a temple in Chiang Mai with fourteen other monks and meditates and prays with them for two hours every morning and evening. He spends about three hours a day studying the teachings of Buddha and six hours a day at the university taking classes. He has only two meals daily, breakfast at 7 am and lunch at 11:30.  He eats noodles and sometimes adds a little chicken or a vegetable.  I asked where he got the money for his university tuition and food. He told me he begs for money for two hours every day. He walks around with a small bowl and people give him donations. He collects around 50 baht or $1.50 Canadian a day. His university costs $50 per term. Puttatammo says all monks are required to beg.

Puttatammo does not plan to spend his life in the monastery. He wants to be a tourist guide someday. He also wants to go back to Laos so he can look after his aging parents. He says in Laos professionals and business people need rich parents and government connections in order to succeed, so those careers won’t be open to him.buddhist monk in chiang mai thailand

He told me one thing he appreciates about being a monk is the rules for good living he has learned. Monks must not kill or harm living things. They must not steal, lie or use hurtful speech.  They need to eat simply and avoid drugs, alcohol or anything that interferes with the clarity of the mind. They are not to engage in frivolous entertainment or irresponsible sexual behavior. These are rules Puttatammo feels will serve him well even after he is no longer a monk.

 I was sorry when it was time to leave Puttatammo.  I thanked him and told him I’d learned many new and interesting things from our monk chat. 

Other posts about Thailand and Laos……..

Thai Traditions to Start and End the Year

Eating Sticky Rice in Laos

Fair Trade Coffee and Hope For Laos

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Filed under Religion, Thailand, Travel

Thai Traditions to End and Start a Year

As we prepare for the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 I am reminded of two rituals I participated in during our visit to Chiang Mai Thailand.

Beautifully decorated Loy Krathong rafts on display in our Chiang Mai hotel lobby

Beautifully decorated Loy Krathong rafts on display in our Chiang Mai hotel lobby

Loy Krathong came first. ‘Loy’ means to float and a ‘krathong’ is a raft. Thai people make little rafts or boats out of banana leaves. They decorate them with flowers and burning incense sticks and set them afloat in rivers. Before you set your krathong to sail downstream you stop for a time to remember all your sin and suffering from the previous year. In your mind you load all those negative and sad thoughts and experiences onto the raft so when you release your krathong you are essentially floating your troubles away.releasing a lantern during loy krathong festival in thailand

Once your problems from the past are released with your krathong you are ready to make wishes for the future with a khom loi– a large hot air lantern created from rice paper. You light a small burner suspended on a metal brace at the bottom of the lantern and launch it into the sky at the same time as a fireworks display begins its colorful explosions. The khom loi carries your hopes and dreams for the future up to the heavens.  

lantern release

      Here is my husband Dave getting our khom loi ready for launching. As the lantern filled with hot air we had a hard time holding it down and finally it just whooshed out of our hands. It got caught briefly in a tall tree. My heart stopped for a minute because I was sure the branches would start on fire, but just then a gust of wind lifted the lantern and it went soaring up higher and higher. We watched it for a long time before it disappeared from sight.man releasing his lome koy in thailand chaing mai

The sky was peppered with hundreds of pinpoints of light as the people around us sent up their lanterns. Then the fireworks started exploding in the black sky. 

marylou and lantern kome loy festival chiang mai
Most of the prayers I sent up with our khom loi have been answered.

The rituals of Loy Krathong and Khom Loi are a meaningful way to reflect on the past year and make plans for the coming one. Although this year I won’t be floating a flower bedecked boat down a frozen Winnipeg river or letting a lantern loose in the middle of a chilly prairie winter I do want to make time to say good-bye to any negativity of 2012 and welcome 2013 with joy and hope. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……….

Christmas in Hong Kong- Good Memories

And So This is Christmas and What Have You Done

Winter in Winnipeg

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Thailand, Travel