Wednesday, July 6, 2011

“Ciao!” to Chiang Mai

      Chiang Mai is home to many of the hill tribe people and the Lanna, the original inhabitants of this region.  Walking through the street bazaars I saw many of the Lanna selling their handmade wares, especially embroidery and other needlework.  I bought some MC Hammer looking pants, an embroidered jacket, a dragon which an old man had somehow fashioned out of rope, some lamps, and a bunch of other treasures until reason overtook me and I started to realize I’d never get all this stuff on the plane.  We also visited a Lanna “Saturday School” which is kind of a cultural catechism class which the Lanna take their children to on the weekends (they go to regular public school during the week) so the kids will retain their cultural identity.  At Lanna Saturday school kids learn the musical instruments traditionally played by their people, dances, and handicrafts such as making jewelry out of string and grains of rice!  What painstaking work!  Shannon, the Fulbright art teacher, tried her hand at this skill and made a bracelet – very slowly and carefully.  

Lanna kids showing their traditional dance at "Saturday School"

Shannon being taught to embroider with rice at Saturday culture school

Traditional Lanna dance

There are two boys inside this costume (which kinda looks like a llama but can't be since they don't have them here).  They dance around to drum music and pick up money thrown by the crowd with the animal's "mouth"

      About 15 kilometers up into the hills we visited the “Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Habitat for Humanity Work Project” – a community of 82 homes built by and for families who would otherwise be living in substandard housing.  We were given a presentation by the project managers in a community center donated by Amway and FedEx and then one of the residents, an artist, shared his story with us about the poor and unhealthy housing conditions he’d been living in before he’d applied for and been accepted into the Habitat for Humanity program.  Then he explained the pride the residents took in their homes, and how it had changed the lives of so many who are now able to properly care for their elderly parents and/or children.  The artist we spoke to was so grateful that he gave us each a beautiful painting in gratitude for the Fulbright program’s donation to their Habitat community.  We then were able to tour the homes, which the residents were surprisingly eager to show us.  In fact, they are so proud of their residences that they have all left up the signs that were erected by Habitat in 2009 just for the opening ceremonies!  We were shown the house that Jimmy Carter built, as he was here for the project kick-off in 2009.  It was a heartwarming visit.

These signs were just for the opening ceremony in 2009 but the residents love them and keep them in front of their houses

One of the Habitat community residents is an artist who gave us each a painting in appreciation for the chance to live in a Habitat home

This is the artist in his Habitat home with one of his paintings in the background.  His story is heartwarming.

Jimmy Carter helped build this house in 2009.  Notice that the residents of this house are Christian, not Buddhist.  This is because the hill tribe people had their own religion and so weren't as entrenched in Buddhism as most Thais are - and American evangelical missionaries have spent a lot of time with the hill tribe people.

      Other places visited in Chiang Mai (and Chiang Rai) included a man’s home which has been turned into a museum for elephant carvings, some great northern Thai restaurants, a "factory" where umbrellas are handmade out of bamboo,  the studio of a master potter who has exhibited his work around the world, and lots of temples and shops!  Our time sadly came to an end as we left Chiang Mai to head to Lampang, the home of the Elephant Conservation Center.

A woman making umbrellas out of bamboo

Freshly painted umbrellas drying in the sun
Somluck Pantiboon, master potter

In the potter's garden
The White Temple - it has a Thai name but I can't remember it.  It looks like a doily!
Whacked out sculpture at the White Temple.  Buddhist temples usually have images of tranquility, so don't ask me what this is about or why that red fingernailed hand is flipping us off
Random riverside workers
For Thais, food is art
Sooooo funny!  In Thailand an "ice cream sandwich" is literally a scoop of ice cream between two slices of white bread!
In Thailand orchids grow like weeds
Samples of northern Thai handicrafts
Snake on the table at our lunch restaurant

Thais call the Milky Way the "White Elephant Way"