Tag Archives: Architecture

Chiang Mai: Temple Central

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, with a population of about 200,000 people. According to Wikipedia, approximately 1.4 million to 2 million foreigners visit this former Capitol of the ancient kingdom of Lanna every year. If that is correct — and judging from our own experiences in CM, it certainly seems feasible — it is an remarkable statistic.

What do all of these tourists do when they get here? First and foremost, they visit any number of Buddhist temples. There are over 300 wat in Chiang Mai and on any given day, you will walk past 3-4 of them. When we first arrived in Chiang Mai, we had to wait a couple of hours for our room to be readied, and on our first short walk around town, we accidentally stumbled upon three of them. The first of these (I think) was a relatively obscure temple named Wat Pa Phra Nai. It doesn't appear on Google Map and an Internet search for that name comes up empty. The only source to provide this name is the the map of CM we bought at one of the dozens of 7-11s scattered throughout the city.

We walked down this unremarkable soi (small lane, as opposed to thanon, which means road), and my eye was drawn to a beautifully detailed wall.

The wall turned a corner and opened up into an empty courtyard. The gate was open, there were no people in sight, and so cautiously, we entered and began exploring.

One of the things that makes Chiang Mai's temples remarkable — other than their sheer number — is the absolute lack of preciousness surrounding them. Most are not intended or managed as tourist sites; most of them are centers of local community. Wat Phra Pa Nai, Wat Methang, and Wat Umong Maha Thera Chan (again, these are my best guesses reached by cross referencing my memories and our map of CM) are examples of this. We didn't see a single other tourist at these temples. The main buildings, when open, had a comfortable lived-in quality. Yes, there were gigantic golden Buddhas, but there were also sagging couches, folding chairs, and threadbare rugs.

Wat Methang sits right across the street from our hotel. We first noticed it while eating breakfast.

We happened across Wat Umong Maha Thera Chan after dinner one night. Bats swooped across a rose-colored sky, French tourists smoked cigarettes in violation of Thai law, and a song lifted into the darkening air, occasionally obscurd by the rev of a passing tuk tuk.

Other temples in Chiang Mai may be more majestic, more photogenic, more historically or culturally significant. But the manner in which these quiet, unassuming, everyday places of devotion are integrated into the fabric of the city — and into its inhabitants' lives — are what makes me love them. They are unpretentious and more beautiful because of it. They reveal how fully Buddhism has saturated this place. These unremarkable wat are as mundane — and as holy — as a stray dog, a food cart selling sliced fruit with salt and chili powder, a uniformed student sitting sidesaddle on a speeding scooter.

 

Wat Phrathat Doi Sutep

Another day, another temple. The famous, the legendary Wat Phrathat Doi Sutep. Set high in the mountains outside of Chiang Mai, this is another of the must-sees that is listed in pretty much every single guidebook and/or website devotes to things Chiang Mai. Apparently, this location was chosen by a white elephant who was carrying a relic of the Buddha. He wandered around a bit, climbed a mountain, found a spot where he trumpeted three times and then died. And so, King Na Nuone, leader of the Lanna empire and one who could recognize a sign when he saw one, built Wat Prathat Doi Sutep on the site of the white elephant's death.

Getting to this temple nowadays is a bit of a process, but at least does not involve killing white elephants. We caught a tuk tuk from our hotel out to the University area and then from there, we sat at a songthaew stand, waiting for a full complement of riders. Once our group assembled — a Japanese family of three, a Thai couple, a pair of gays (one of which was wearing the best t-shirt I've seen in Thailand; multicolored appliqué letters spelling out “SUPER LADY BOY”), a young woman from Germany traveling solo, Tim, and yours truly — we loaded up and wound our way up the flanks of Doi Suthep. For the first time since landing in Bangkok, we cleared the layer of haze and/or smog that has followed is everywhere, and saw a blue(ish) sky!

The scene that greeted us at the foot of the temple complex was part Disneyland, part Chatuchak. Stalls selling everything from Buddhist tchotchkes to roasted chestnuts, watermelon slices to hill tribe clothing, lined the four lane road leading past Wat Prathat Doi Sutep and on to the highest point of the mountain, Doi Pui. Hordes of tourists were congregating around three points: the base of a giant golden statue of Sumanathera (the monk whose dream started off the whole Buddha's relic/white elephant adventure), the aforementioned market, and a ticket booth selling combined admission to the temple and a ride in funicular rail car, thus bypassing the naga-lined stairwell. The Japanese family headed to the market. The ladyboys hurried to the tram building.

Tim and I made for Sumanathera and then climbed the 309 steps leading to the entrance to Wat Prathat Doi Sutep.

Inside this temple was everything. When I say everything, I mean everything.

A burning Ganesh.

Bugs.

Big tacky billboards featuring the King of Thailand.
Ladyboys.
Pretty flowers.
Fresh squeezed orange juice.
Beautiful views of the rainforest.
Weird, kitschy sculptures.
The mess and clutter of everyday life.
Fruit that looks like testicles.
Tourists. DUH.
Beautiful Buddhist forms.
Shopping carts parked in unexpected corners.
Flip flops with the word “SPERM” embossed into their foot beds.

I guess that's one of the things I find interesting about Buddhism. There is room for everything. It's not about denying your body, or the griminess of earthly existence, it's not about attempting to be pristine or perfect. It, like the great mystical traditions, sees this human incarnation not as a punishment, but an opportunity. Yes, there is suffering, and pain, and inexplicable tragedy; there is happiness and joy and love. And when the right perspective is found, when all of these individual forms reveal their great unity, what is revealed is beauty. Everything, all together, is beautiful.

 

Historic Amtrak Train Station ~ Niles, MI

 

day 38 ~ santa fe, nm ~ the house that never stops eating, house hunting blues

www.theendlessroadtrip.com ~ day 38 of my year long daily video journal finds us eating and eating in santa fe, nm. (more…)

escape from santa fe ~ las vegas, nm ~ july 17, 2011

20110723-115806.jpg

20110723-115828.jpg

20110723-115836.jpg

20110723-115843.jpg

20110723-115851.jpg

20110723-115901.jpg

spanish revival train depot ~ las vegas, nm ~ july 17, 2011

las vegas, nm used to be one of the most important train hubs in the american west. built by money from railroads and mines, this once magnificent town has since fallen on hard times. the old harvey house still stands, although abandoned and somewhat derelict, but the charming depot — a wonderful example of spanish revival architecture — is still active!

legal tender ~ lamy, nm ~ june 22, 2011

santa fe’s closest amtrak station is in lamy, about a 20-minute drive into the galisteo basin. also in lamy, the legal tender bar and grill / railroad history museum. this chandelier is part of the beautiful and lovingly restored interior.

riverfront park ~ spokane, wa ~ october 18, 2010

SPOKANE AND AGAIN

in early august of 2009, we rolled into spokane, wa from missoula, mt. it was not the best of times. montana had shown us a wonderful time — from the big dipper to the testicle festival, from tubing the clark fork river to reeling at the berkeley pit — but in retrospect, it is clear that this was the beginning of a difficult time. my magic phone, the fabulous object that i named excalibur, had stopped working, placing us in a sort of communication limbo. work had trickled to a stop, and the financial standing of the endless road trip began to seem questionable. what had been a full on “ride-like-the-wind” vibe was taking on a more somber, serious tone. chalk it up to money woes, broken toys, or the beginnings of the natural shift that comes at the end of a long and productive summer, our arrival in spokane was accompanied by a small gray cloud directly over my increasingly worried head.

as a result, my initial experience of spokane was rather abstracted. instead of being able to focus on the marvels of riverfront park and the turquoise chaos of the spokane river, i was stressing out about how much money we didn’t have and how i would be able to conduct my business without excalibur. i remember a bag of freshly made miniature donuts that managed to snap me out of this rather depressing headspace for a few minutes, but for the most part, i was tense and nervous, as if bracing for a sudden, unexpected blow.

my second visit to spokane took place under markedly different circumstances. i returned on a business trip, which means that although this second visit might have been equally abstracted, it was a much lighter abstraction. as a result, i was able to wander happily through all of the landmarks that i remembered — the world’s fair pavilion, the old clock tower, the pedestrian bridge over the spokane river — without the constant nag of worry and doubt. the air was brisk and edged with humidity. a band of hacky-sackers laughed in the distance, their single-speed road bikes strewn thoughtlessly on the emerald green grass. a family sat at the edge of a pond feeding/being attacked by flocks of birds. color bled at the edges of tree crowns. my stomach was full of sushi and miso soup. i was tired from a long week of travel and work, and i missed tim and mazy somethin awful, but i felt happy and content. spokane is a very cool little city.

what became apparent was that the only real difference between my two visits to spokane was what i chose to pay attention to. the first time around i was inhabiting the interior world of worry and doubt, scratching worst-case scenarios into the walls of my mind. the second time, i paid attention to the reality that surrounded me. the shell of my own solipsism had been broken. the funny thing is that both of these worlds — insidious worry and the remarkable present — are always present; parallel planes that exist in the same space but in different dimensions. one gives solace and one gives dis-ease. luckily, whether we realize it or not, we always have the agency to decide where our attention — that most valuable of resources — will be paid.

what probably appears below is a blank screen with a funny logo off to the side of it. click on the pane and hopefully, what will appear is a 360-degree snapshot of spokane’s riverfront park. click and drag on the window to scroll up, down, left and right. and if you want to zoom in to check out the hacky-sackers or the girl wearing pajamas and slippers, click the + button in the lower left corner. i’m pretty pleased with this little chunk of technology and i hope you enjoy it as much as i do.


music in the video: da me cinco, by blip blip bleep, courtesy of iodapromonet.
Alarm Clock, Snooze Bar, Get Up - EPBlip Blip Bleep
“Da Me Cinco” (mp3)
from “Alarm Clock, Snooze Bar, Get Up – EP”
(Undercover Culture Music)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
Stream from Rhapsody
Buy at mTraks
More On This Album

lincoln home national historic site, springfield illinois ~ 09jul10

SPRINGFIELD, SPRINGFIELD IT’S A HELL OF A TOWN

the state of illinois is home to one, count ‘em, one national park site: the lincoln home national historic site in the state’s capitol, springfield. luckily for us, this place was not too far off of the highways we were following in a mad rush to make it first to michigan to drop mazy off with my sister, and then to chicago to celebrate the birthdays of two of my nearest and dearest.

in fact, we were in such a rush that when we first saw the signs announcing the lincoln home historic area my first inclination was to demur. it was only when i checked my national park passport and realized this was perhaps my only chance to get the single stamp offered by the entire state of illinois that i faltered. we are witnessing, after all, the historic obama presidency, a presidency that has strong connections both to illinois and to abraham lincoln, and what better time to take a moment and reflect on the man that president obama so clearly admires?

we pulled into a shaded parking lot on a quintessential mid-western summer day: glowering sun shepherding slow-moving clouds in a sky pale with humidity. i ran into the visitors center to get my passport stamp…and then proceeded to get sucked in by the various displays, historical models and movies scattered about the place.

before we knew it, hours had passed. we visited the dean house and the arnold house (the only two buildings you can visit without the presence of a tour guide), encountered the lincoln troubadors (listen to the audio clip if you want to hear their rendition of a familiar classic), and watched a short documentary about lincoln’s train trip from springfield to washington d.c. at the great western depot.

we had intended to arrive at my sister’s place at a reasonable hour, not only to spend some time catching up with her and (her husband) tim, but also to get mazy settled in and to pack our bags for our early morning train trip to chicago. instead, we arrived at 12:30am to find the doors locked and the windows dark. we spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get into the building. we finally got to bed at around 2 in the morning, exhausted and heat-stoned. i blame barack obama.

this audio clip contains a couple of excerpts from the cell phone tour offered at the lincoln home site and a song performed by the above mentioned lincoln troubadors. enjoy!

Download:

allergy season ~ albuquerque and santa fe, new mexico

OF VINEGAR AND KARMA

back in the early 1990s, i spent about four years living, working and going to school in albuquerque, nm. i was in my early twenties, and to be perfectly honest, i was not at my most emotionally healthy. in the common parlance of the rom-com, i had a lot of growing up to do. there are memories of my time in new mexico that can still bring moments of sweaty, gut-cramping embarrassment. i wore a skirt? a miniskirt? i fooled around with an aspiring model named clint? i sent secret admirer notes? ergh. sure, there were wonderful times and unforgettable experiences as well, but even those were fraught with the self-absorbed angst that only a twenty-year-old, semi-closeted, recovering seventh day adventist could muster.

tim amy hiking santa fe nm.jpg

what i’m trying to get at with all of these terrifying revelations is that new mexico and i have a very intense emotional history. under albuquerque’s chronically sunny skies, i experienced more than my share of awkwardness and inflicted more than my share of cruelty. i could go into more detail, but really, what would be the point? suffice it to say that whenever i go back, i can’t help but feel that there’s a shit ton of karmic payback waiting for exactly the right moment to serve notice.

glowing mysterious cloud.jpg

that moment was april 2010. it may seem overly dramatic to assert that the allergies i experienced during this visit to new mexico were a sort of cosmic retribution for my past sins, but i was there and i lived through it, so i know. this was some serious heironymus bosch shit. being eaten by a bird-headed creature while crows fly out of one’s ass could hardly be more terrible than the life-sapping combination of congestion, leakage, migraine, insomnia, dehydration, bloody nose, and puffy face that new mexico’s flora inflicted on me. apparently, other people suffered as well, this being the worst allergy season in years. new mexico had seen an unusually wet winter and pollen and mold counts, so i was told, were through the roof. such knowledge proved a cold comfort. misery may love company, but i would prefer to keep misery at a safe distance.

nomads partners lovers.jpg

luckily for me, i stumbled upon a remedy so powerful it not only does away with allergy symptoms, it also eradicates bad karma. my friend carla suggested it when my eyes, nose, mouth and throat first began to leak, but i foolishly chose to ignore her advice. it was only after i had hit my own rock bottom and realized i was helpless before this seasonal affliction that i finally surrendered to a higher power: the power of apple cider vinegar.

for those of you who are afflicted by allergies, bad karma, or both, i recommend the following brew:

2 C bragg’s apple cider vinegar
2 inches of ginger, sliced thinly
4-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
several dashes of cayenne pepper

bring the above ingredients to a boil, turn heat down and simmer for a while. turn off heat and add:

2-4 teabags (stinging nettle, breathe easy, gypsy cold care, etc.)
enough local honey and warm water to dilute and make the brew palatable.

drink this stuff all day long. drink it til the people around you begin asking if you smell something weird.

how do i know it works on allergies? well, in my case, about two days after getting serious with the vinegar, my symptoms had all but disappeared. it verged on the miraculous.

how do i know it zapped my bad karma? because even though i started my tenure in new mexico as an insecure, awkward, unnecessarily cruel, sometimes vicious, skirt-wearing, closet case, i somehow managed to end up with the coolest, kindest, smartest, funniest, most talented and generous friends in the entire state. so to m, a, w, c, z, h, and e: thanks for putting up with my endless bitching and moaning about my damned allergies. you guys made new mexico more magical – one might even say enchanted – than ever.

dinner party santa fe nm.jpg
dinner-at-will-and-carlas.jpg

Posted by Wordmobi