Tuesday, February 26, 2013

More Puppets

The two outstanding puppet shows were the Burmese human puppets and the Viet Nam "water puppets".  The Burma troupe displayed a very inventive show using the puppeteers as the puppets themselves.  They lay on their backs and used legs and feet to portray the puppet figures dancing and bowing to music.  Then they told a story of storks meeting, falling in love, producing eggs, and finally hatching stork chicks.  The storks were people bent over with straw hats to represent the stork bodies and their arms then became stork legs and another person on top used their arm and hand to form the stork neck and head.  Unfortunately the stage was too far away for any pictures.

The water puppets from Viet Nam are apparently famous originating in early Asian centuries when farmers would make ponds along side their rice paddies and perform puppetry to assure a good rice crop.  Now performed only in Hanoi, the puppeteers stand in the water behind the bamboo screen and manipulate the puppets from long sticks under the water.  The dragons, or "Nagas" shoot fireworks from their mouths and can also shoot streams of water at the audience.  This photo shows the troupe after the performance in front of the screen.

Children in the audience had a wonderful time along with the "big kids".

International Puppetry Festival

 This last weekend was the annual puppet festival held at the Chiang Mai University Arts campus.  This event featured puppet troupes from eight SE Asian countries.  Starting Friday evening and going through Sunday evening. There were talks about the history of puppetry in each country, puppet making demonstrations, and of course puppet performances.  Because of other activities I missed Friday and Saturday events, but was pleased to attend on Sunday afternoon and evening.

This was truly a festival with demonstrations and talks given in an air conditioned auditorium and shows and vendors outdoors in the evening.

My visit included puppet shows from Burma, Thailand, and Viet Nam on an outdoor stage under the stars with misting fans cooling the crowd. 

What I did not get to see were the famous shadow puppet shows from Indonesia, which I intend to make a point of seeing next year.

I wouldn't have found the festival if it were not for a huge billboard near the entrance to Chiang Mai University which was in Thai language except for the words "ASEAN Puppetry Festival".  I went home and Googled it to find the information and glad I did.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Birds

Now that the saga is finished I have a little story about the pigeons in my attic and a little insight to the Thai way of thinking.

There have been pigeons in my attic since I moved in nearly 2 months ago.  When I brought this to the attention of the landlord, she resolved to remedy the situation.  It's not healthy to live so close to bird droppings, bird lice, and the dust from their constant flying around and walking over the crawl hole cover which filters this stuff onto my living room floor.

The first "fix" was the handyman mixing up a batch of concrete to try to seal up the holes on the outside of the roof.  "There", the landlord said, "birds gone".  Well, the birds were not gone, so the handyman did the same thing again.  "Roof fix", said the landlady.  Well, "roof not fix", was my reply.

Trying to help the process along, I suggested she have someone go into the attic and look for light from the outside to identify where they were getting in.  She got one of the other tenants (who sells hotdogs from a street cart) to climb up and take a look.  When I climbed up after him to look, I could see several places that obviously were where they were getting in.  There was also netting from long ago that would have kept them out, but was old and had rips and tears.  This is going to be simple, I thought.  Someone will just have to put up some new netting or screen and the problem will be solved.

Hold on a minute.... not so easy as I imagined.  When the neighbor boy brought down 5 eggs, he and the landlady spoke in Thai (quite a lot) and their consensus was that "birds look outside for eggs and not come back".  What?  Are they serious?  Yes, they were, so I had to wait until the next morning to tell them "birds not gone".

So after another week, the landlady called upon another 20 something skinny Thai kid.  Probably her nephew.  Soot was his name.  He crawled up to take a look and his remedy would be to smoke them out.  I'm thinking at this point "just put up the screen and be done with it".

Soot returned some days later with a 5 gallon metal can and a handful of smoking fireworks.  He wanted to use my kitchen knife to cut the top of the can off.  No way Soot.  I found a hunting knife that had been a Christmas gift from my father many years ago (I have no idea why I brought that thing to Thailand).  When Soot had a large portion of the top cut off, I could see it had about an inch of gasoline in the bottom.  Great, he's going to blow the roof completely off, that'll take care of em.  No, he took the can downstairs and dumped the gas and rinsed out the can, then placed it in the attic near the access crawl hole.  He lit 2 of the bombs and they had firecrackers inside, then the whole attic lit up when the smoke part started spewing sparks.  The attic was, indeed, full of smoke and as far as I could tell the pigeons just went to the other end of the building.

"There", he said. "I have to go now because I live far and it will be cold riding my motorcycle".  "I come back in 7 days and put up screen".  I replied "but the birds will be back by then".  "No, no."  "You light more smoke tomorrow, then birds will remember that it hard to breathe and not come back."  OK, here is some more magical thinking and of course the pigeons were back later that night.

Soot tried to communicate with me by typing Thai into his i-phone, then translating it.  This one says: "It will help you have some time.  But if you can make your own bird.  Then again I would not dare for fear of recidivism."

My plan now is not to waste the smoke bombs now, I'll wait until the day before he returns and smoke the hell out of them, then again on the morning of his arrival.  All this time the cover is off the crawl hole and the next morning when I came into the living room there were 5 pigeons standing around the hole looking down at me. 

The day arrives for my first bombing and I am surprised how much these are fireworks and not smoke bombs.  They just leave smoke from the burning, cracking fireworks.  The tin can glowed white hot and when I moved it a little I saw that it had set the pigeon droppings on fire!  I now have a fire in the attic....and pigeons.  The fire wasn't too difficult to put out and I resolved that these fireworks are not intended for this use.  I covered the crawl hole and waited for Soot to arrive, and waited.  He did not show.  The landlord said "oh, he is taking 2 days off from working, he arrive on Tuesday.  Tuesday I stay home all day, wait, wait.  Again no show.

Landlord now says he'll be here on Thursday.... I'm through staying home to wait, so I go shopping and swimming and about my business, while Soot does not show again.

Now I ask the landlord to move to a different apartment because it has become clear that Soot has lost interest.  Now I'm on the 3rd floor and a new tenant is in my old one on the 4th.  Apparently Thais can live with birds in the attic.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What's Up with Wats

Wats (Buddhist temples or monasteries) are ubiquitous in Thailand.  It is very easy to become complacent about another visit to another Wat because they are everywhere.   As a matter of fact, the central town of Chiang Mai has 300 Wats inside the one mile square moat. Even though each one is different and each one a wonder to see, there are just too many to maintain an interest in stopping at each one.
On a recent trip south of Chiang Mai, our small motorcycle group happened upon one that, like many others, had beautiful grounds, a temple, a stupa (old, original monument),but this one was a little different.

Every Wat has a way for visitors to make donations and as I reported in a previous post, one Wat had 4 different ways to make a personal, written prayer in exchange for a small donation.  It is a unique way to ask for donations, sort of a "value added" donation.
This one was no different.  One could write one's name on a roofing tile and have it be part of the roof of a newly constructed building.  I am not sure of what this new building would be used for, but it was constructed entirely of teak wood using tree trunks as posts and beams. Several of our group added roof tiles for luck. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Harvesting Melodies Music Festival

Went to an all day traditional music festival last week.  It was hosted by, and a benefit for, a non-profit farm dedicated to "food forest", which is essentially growing what grows best for the area and climate and helping to teach area farmers how to grow crops more efficiently.  After a somewhat difficult navigation of the posted map and directions, I did manage to find the small farm about 45 minutes out of town.  The "White Buddha" was a turnoff landmark.

The crowd was thin early in the day, but increased to about a hundred folks by mid-afternoon.  There were lots of hipsters/backpackers, and relatively few older folks.  Staff at the farm seemed to be 20 somethings and one older guy that were very intent on their focus of experimental farming and permaculture.

I have several videos I wanted to include with this post, but they will not load, so I'll just get on with it without them.  The music was all different, some traditional Thai, a vocal group that sings world music (mostly Bulgarian), Lanna dancing, an Italian guitarist, and Burmese orphanage dancing.
This is a tired dancer waiting for her turn on stage with her partner in Karen hill tribe costume.

This "spirit house" was a chance encounter along the way to the farm.  It apparently has something to do with funerals because the same workshop was making ornate wooden caskets.

Below is a couple enjoying the music.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Exercise in the Tropics Should be Cool

As I settle in to my new life, I realize one needs to have an exercise routine for a feeling of well being. It is approaching the hot season here in Chiang Mai with temps around 95 degrees by afternoon and still cool enough to sleep without the A/C at night at 66 degrees.  Several of my ex-pat friends play tennis, which can be grueling if not played at first light of day.  Eventually even early morning on a tennis court wouldn't be my idea of fun.

I'm thinking swimming might be a good way to get my body in motion and yet stay cool in the process.  Yesterday I spent the morning investigating the 3 swimming pools nearest my apartment.  The one pictured above seemed the most relaxed atmosphere, but as a private club membership fees are high and the charge for each visit is steep.  There are designated lap swim hours and free swim hours which make it less convenient for spur-of-the-moment swims.  One advantage in my eyes is that this pool uses a salt water purification system which keeps the water fresh and clean without chemicals.

My second pool visit was to the 700 Year Sports Complex.  It is a huge grounds with many sport facilities built as Chiang Mai's 700 year anniversary and for the 1995 South East Asia Games.  It has an Olympic size pool and separate diving pool.  It is very inexpensive for annual membership, but lacks shower facilities and free lockers.  Open 8 AM -8 PM every day makes it ideal for anytime lap or free swims.  The pool is underused, so there are never more than a few people there.  See video and more about the complex here.

The third stop on my pool tour was to the Chiang Mai University pool.  This facility, built in 1967, is on a beautiful 725 acre campus which is well maintained with flowering gardens and interesting architecture.  Use of the pool is also by membership and a small fee for each use.  It has showers, lockers and free swim hours from 10 AM - Noon and 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM.  I am not sure how often it is used for school swim meets or practices such as water polo, but I intend to investigate it further.  This one might be my choice.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Trip to Costco (Almost)

I've showed you pictures of my local open-air market where everything is laid out under a very large roof, but open on all sides.

This morning my outing was to the Big C Extra which is a large Costco style store with hardware, clothing, bedding, electronics, and groceries.  Everything is this store is packaged including the vegetables.

My list was short, but trying to read the labels and figure out what things were took considerable time.

Toilet paper and fruit was easy.  Canned and packaged food was the problem, although some items had enough English somewhere on the label that mostly identified what was inside.  "Tuna sandwich in brine" might be chunk tuna in salt water, but maybe it's already mixed with ingredients for a tuna sandwich.  Mayonnaise could have sugar added as so many things in Thailand do.  Cornichons "vom feld auf den tisch" are German pickles I know, but sweet or dill?  Sometimes pictures on the jar can tell most of the story.  Orange slices on the label and orange jelly in the jar must be marmalade.

Sauces are a whole different matter.  Thais use so many different liquid flavorings that one can't be sure if it is fish sauce, vinegar, something hot, or just soy sauce.

When it comes to grocery shopping for me at this stage in my new-found country, I'll keep it as simple as possible.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Any Excuse for a Parade

Yesterday was the culmination of the annual "flower festival" which has been going on for a week or so.  Each evening there is an array of food booths and a stage with Thai dancing and entertainment at the most popular city gate.  Yesterday was even more special however, with a parade of bands, various Thai groups, and of course many floats, all made with fresh flowers.

These floats are very similar to the Rose Parade floats in Pasadena that they are almost entirely decorated with flowers, leaves, and sometimes seeds and grass.  Although much smaller than the Rose Parade floats, the effect is the same of fantasy and wonder.

Since I couldn't read the Thai writing on them, I have no idea what organizations were represented.

The parade ended at a city park on the other side of the moated city center with a very impressive street fair devoted to plants and all kinds of botanical paraphernalia.  Some of the most showy blossoms were the huge variety of orchids in every color imaginable.  All the plants were potted and for sale at very reasonable prices.  For instance one bright yellow orchid with several blossoms in a 3" pot and about 2' tall was $3.

A new friend from New Zealand and I walked to the park and wandered the flower isles for an hour or so before stopping to get a cold drink and relax a little.  The afternoon temps here seem to be climbing a little to almost 90 F., so we took a red bus back to our starting point.

Friday, February 1, 2013

My Apartment in Chiang Mai

I've had requests to post pictures of my apartment in Chiang Mai, so I ran around (not tidying up) to take a few for the blog.  This apartment, or condo as many will call it is on a small side street from a larger main 4-lane road.  It's just far enough off the main road to be little effected by road noise.  My unit is far right top which has no front balcony as the 3rd floor units do, but 4 openable windows and lots of light facing the mountains.  Mine is the top (4th floor) walk-up which gives me some leg exercise, especially when I get down to the motor bike and realize I've forgotten my helmet, or keys, or something else important.
Most condos and apartments are like hotel rooms here.  One room with a bed and a bathroom.  Mine has a separate bedroom of considerable size, a queen sized bed with linen and lots of built-in closet space.  There is a TV on the wall at the foot of the bed with 70 channels and about 7 are in English.  Several news stations and a few movie stations.  There is also WiFi all included in the rental price of $150.

Kitchens are almost never included in a rental.  Street food is so cheap that Thais don't cook at home.  Food is always nearby and very easy to get.  Working folks will stop off at a food stall after work and get take-home for the family.  I was lucky to get a kitchen even though it was not outfitted, it is a great comfort to be able to cook some western style food at home.  I underestimated my ability to eat Thai for every meal.  Comfort food is more important than you might imagine!  There is trash pickup every day, but no recycling.  Plastic bottles and cans go out with the trash, but I always put them in separately in case there is someone who comes around to pick out recyclables (maybe wishful thinking).                                                                                                  

The small living room is adequate for me.  I have 2 small, low tables and 4 chairs and a built-in counter and shelves unit.

Both the kitchen and bathroom are outside on the rear balcony and you can see the wire mesh to keep the birds out.  The shower has an on-demand water heater which does not store hot water, but heats it as it is used.  This is very efficient and you'll never run out of hot water!  I enjoy having these facilities outside.  It is never too cold to shower outside and it is nice not to have cooking odors and kitchen heat linger in the unit.
A note on toilet usage:  Thais do not flush toilet paper because the sewer systems and pipes are not large enough to handle the paper.  Instead each toilet (no matter where you go) has a kitchen type hand held spray nozzle that you spray your butt with to clean yourself, then use a little toilet paper to dry yourself and put it in the nearby wastebasket.  Cleaner ass and little paper used, America could take a lesson on this one.

And finally here is what my rides are.  Bicycle for the neighborhood and moto for further afield.
Present plans are to purchase a larger moto for more comfortable riding to outlying areas, and to purchase another bike for when my friend Albert decides to reclaim this one.
Cars are expensive here, about twice the price as in the U.S.  But during the hot season and rainy season, a car might be the only way to get out of the apartment.  I rode the moto this week and got caught in the rain, nay, torrential downpour and it wasn't comfortable.  This "cool season" only lasts Jan, Feb, Mar.  The rest of the year is either hot, rainy or both.