Aliens from Atlantis

December 9, 2009

Michelle has gotten the tone down for our Thai Massage Education with Pichest.
For the moment anyway.   It will change again yesterday and already changed tomorrow. He’s a spinning top. He’s having a good time.

….So goes a wisdom of this land:

If it’s not สนุก (snuk) {fun}, it’s not worth doing.

Recently, I was taken to the middle of a field, just outside of town. Maw Taw, who has been a medicine man for much of his life, offered  herbal tea, an herbal sauna, herbal infused whiskey, Lanna-style “Thai” massage, wine, ramen soup, papaya, apple, guava, more herbal tea, hugs, a used sauna furnace, training on how to make a sauna,
and then he suddenly gave me a raspberry on my belly.

ok. snuk. yes. fun. ok. sure. super. right.

I ate a map of Chiang Mai. Not too much seasoning, my digestion isn’t yet quite right. Sauted with “organic” vegetables and served over sticky rice.

I ate it S-L-O-W-L-Y and traced  it’s passage down my trachea and into the labyrinth of my itestinal tract. I did this to absorb the energy of this city. The layers of time and myth and legend and dreams. The pathways walked by so many Shaman and Monks and Rusii; a grounded surrender to an Invisible Reality.

The labyrinth without and the labyrinth within.

More aliens uploaded on flickr:


more and bigger

November 10, 2009

Mary-with-elephantstaking up more space on the internets…

I’ve had a couple of requests for more and bigger photos. This set is to supplement the “Buddah Walked into a Monk and said Wat” post. We hope you enjoy all of the information we’re throwing your way!

(this pic was not taken inside a Wat, but it is pretty darn cute!)

see link below:

mary with stringWhen I settle down and am not overwhelmed by the traffic, the pollution, the heat or my nervous tendencies toward shyness, Chiang Mai becomes a city of animistic Magik and fluid motion. I don’t want to get sentimental or grandiose about this place, but my moments are, again and again, found inside something beautiful. I must temper myself, as everything looks new and fresh when traveling, and I can easily get excited about a door. It looks so simple here. Wrap a rice ball in banana leaves, fill it with sweet “pancake” and hold it shut with a toothpick; put the white string on your head for good luck; dye rice purple, blue and green with flowers; dye fabric with squished ants and make a scarf; wrap a tree in red and yellow fabric then support its boughs with golden crutches. And i’m obsessed with the brooms. They are lovely. broomI intend to find a broom “factory” and give them their own post. I feel that the traditions and culture support a grounded connection to the sacred, and this further supports the patience, kindness and elegance of the people of this city.

Michelle and I have been visiting the Wats. A reasonable farang activity as there are many. Many, many. And they are really pretty. We’ve participated in a Monk Ordination ceremony and a Monk Chat; have been blessed by a mysterious monk in a dark corner with a piece of string; seen ancient, crumbling Wats; a shiny, brand new silver Wat; walked deep inside a scary, snake, cave Wat; and attended a ceremony for the Buddha inside which I can only describe as the most amazing New York Art Installation piece that I have ever seen.

Katy, Mindy, Grandma, I was thinking of you when we found Wat Chai Sri Phum. I wish you could have been there to see it. All of the Wats that I’ve seen are beautiful, ornate, colorful, strange and mysterious in their own way, and my response to Wat Chai Sri Phum may not have been as strong if we had not walked in while the Monks were preparing for an upcoming weekend weavecelebration. It was Death Hour, to escape the heat Michelle and I decided to hide inside a Wat. Not expecting a spectacle beyond the expected spectacle, what I saw in bare feet and in dazed heat belonged in a Gallery. The ceiling was a grid ofwatwrappedinstring white string with more white string tied into a ball at each intersection, huge branches wrapped in gold and silver foil leaned on each other to form a teepee, banana leaves and marigolds adorned white ladders that went both up and down, weavings hung from the ceiling, bowls of rice and seeds were placed where they needed to be, along with bundles of sticks wrapped in gold in silver foil. An altar of a dozen gold Buddha’s overlooked the scene while Monks (some of them tattooed) wandered around in saffron robes.

ceremonyIt was even more ridiculous when we returned on Saturday for the ceremony. Offerings of banana leaf and bamboo boxes filled with origami fruits and flowers and prayers were set up. Over which some of the ladies in the Sangha battled over the timing of the lighting of incense and candles. Even more random weavings, drawings and plant matter filled the space. It was dense and also delicate. We were kindly encouraged and guided to sit beneath a ball of string. Then, in  broken Thai (I for the most part just saidcroc “thank you” and “good afternoon” over and over) and pantomime (point to a ball of string above you, then circle the top of your head and you’ve got the moves) we came to understand that we would get to wear the string on our heads! It was a wonderful experience to be sitting with about 200 fellow humans beneath a grid of string, each of us releasing the string so that one end was still tied to the grid and the other end was coiled atop our head. Prayers and much chanting allowed for a lovely rhythmic ceremony in which the woven connection of all life felt real and present.

We were later told that this ceremony was to clear all the offeringsbad from our lives to make room for the good.  The whole experience was pretty solid. We were blessed with water, given an embroidered chord, and instructed to keep the string with us. Possibly in our pocket or under our pillow or under our hat. I had hoped to grab one of the many drawings and paintings hanging from string or sticks, but the collective Sangha was quick, and I was timid. Afterwards, we were invited to eat lunch with everyone, including the Monks. The food was served Family style and was the most delicious that I’ve had so far.

crutchesI’m not a Buddhist, I approach the Wats with an artistic and anthropological interest. From my conversations with the Monks, the locals, and from what I’ve observed, the Thai embrace Buddhism with an easy going Spiritual affinity. Not only are Wats everywhere, but so are Spirit Houses and Shrines and evidence of Folk traditions. In restaurants, it is not uncommon to see totems and talismans hanging dusty and feathered on a wall or from the ceiling. You can buy a blessing of a flowered necklace and hang it on a rusty crane or a lamp in a bar. I have the feeling that my teacher is using Thai Massage as a glamour to a deeper magical experience. There is no need for me to believe or feel anything new or inspired or revelatory. The pressure is off, for the most part.  This is the culture shock that I was looking for: a relaxed but strong support for the individual experience. I am living inside a Dali painting. My limbs are supported by golden crutches, ants are everywhere and time is meaningless.

In a future post, either Michelle or I will write about the scary, snake, cave Wat. It deserves more than a mention. We walked inside the mountain, we plan to go back and walk on the mountain. Here is a picture of a snake on the snake:


#9 Dream

October 31, 2009

marymichelleMary and Michelle have come to do what in Thailand?  Mary and Michelle are living where in Thailand?  Mary and Michelle are woken up by what every morning at 5? And 5:30…and 6:00 in Thailand?

This, in case you’re wondering, is proper Thai sentence structure.

Welcome to Mary and Michelle’s blog, where you will get the answers to the above questions.

massageofficeWe live in bungalow Number 9 in a bungalow complex north west of the old section of Chiang Mai, on Huay Kaew Road, which runs in a diagonal between Chiang Mai University and downtown.soho Our complex is just off this busy road, behind the car wash, behind the restaurant, behind Soho thrift store, behind the thai massage place/office of the bungalow complex, behind the place we thought was just a restaurant with sappy live music but are now realizing is a place where a lonely or bored middle-aged man might be able to find the dinner company of a young, scantily clad lady for a drink.  A prostitutebar3-minute walk from our bungalow, we went there just last night to check out the scene again, eating fried rice and drinking Chang (Elephant) Beer.

The bartender never lets the scantily clad ladies wait on us, and always pushes them aside.carwash

There are many characters around. Our friend Phim (pronounced Feem) works and lives in the car wash. The first day Mary met him he was wearing gold lame shorts and a matching button down shirt with bright blue plastic boots. She regrets not having her

phimcamera at the ready that day (although this one with the towel is fantastic, and we now understand that the gold lame is, in fact, his pajamas). Phim is very spastic and friendly. He has a ring on his pinky finger with a medallion in it that protects him from getting shot by large rifles. He explained this to Michelle through pantomime, pointing first to his ring, then making motions like he was shooting a rifle in the woods. She understood him to mean that his ring was made of a bullet fragment. Mary later had the same conversation with him, but was lucky enough to be “reading” a Thai  magazine that advertised similar amulets, so with this visual aid, she was able to understand him much better.

Nancy runs the Suriya Art Gallery and coffee shopsuriya in one of the other bungalows, and provides free wi-fi to the community.  She, like many of the other foreigners living in the complex, works with the Burmese and is now reading a thick, intimidating book written in Shan, Burmese and Chinese. She also wrote a Burmese-English dictionary with her partner, and it’s on sale at the coffee shop.

There are also some Thai families who live here. We don’t know them as well, but there seems to be a Thai sculptor whose bungalow “yard” is full of sculptures such as a huge pot tilted at a nice angle, an elephant head, and two large phalluses, which Michelle thinks are called lingam.  We don’t have a picture of these, but promise one in a future post.  We almost got to know our neighbors in the large bungalow a few doors down when we thought someone told us we could do our laundry at their house, and wandered around their bungalow, eyeing their washing machine, Michelle practicing the phrase “is there a laundry service near here?”  We realized after a little while that their bungalow was not in fact where we were being directed to go. We were glad to NOT meet them that time around.

deckOur digs are humble, though we do have our very own bathroom, fridge, front porch and a deck that overlooks the dank…is that a stream? is it a creek? is it a river?  One would think this waterway would separate us from the chickens and roosters, skinny, pecking and running around the grounds, but it doesn’t actually seem to serve any purpose other than to provide a damp accompaniment to our daily life.

We have many roommates. They are all ants.  Actually, there is one other mysterious roommate who leaves little piles of black stuff around the bathtub. A gecko? His call sounds like kisses. The ants go in a drunken, wandering line, around our wall, door and shelf. They also find their way to our beds to die, for some reason. A nightly ritual is to sweep their carcasses from our damp and somewhat smelly sheets onto…the floor.

chickenBriefly, we had a pet. Michelle saw this pet become the pet, when it climbed into a cardboard box lined with magazines in our “yard.” She thought, “maybe that chicken will hop into that box and need help getting out.” She waited, but it never came out. Days passed. Our concern grew. We realized we knew next to nothing about chickens. Michelle, not knowing what to do, began to feed the chicken. This made Mary a little nervous. With our phrasebook in hand, we tried to ask various people if the chicken was sick or having little chickens. To ask about little chickens we resorted to pantomime. To ask if the chicken was sick, which we didn’t know how to say, we said, “Does this chicken have a cold?”  People humored us, looked in the roostersbox, and said, “yes, that’s a chicken.”  Eventually, they took the chicken, and the box away, leaving behind only one soggy magazine that says “Happy Day.”  Michelle wonders every day what happened to the chicken and misses her pet. Mary, however, spends little time worrying about the chicken, which is gone and therefore quiet and, in her mind, the picture of health. Instead, she concerns herself with the roosters, the ones that fly-shimmy into a tree for the evening and then fly-fall to the ground to welcome the early morning hours with their “song.” She hopes that someone will remove them soon. Until then, she draws their “flight” pattern.

So, as we hope you can see, this is paradise.

Did we mention the heat?

… … … …dream