Chiang Mai Jan 2015

The Buddha of the Illuminated Rays

The Buddha of the Illuminated Rays


The pointy heads meet

We are back in a corrupt dictatorship where information is censored and political dissidents languish in prison, having left a country that has peaceful general elections and is enjoying a functioning and pluralistic democracy.  That used to be the way it was going from Thailand to Indonesia.  Now the roles are reversed.  Not much looks different here on the surface, except that the protest barricades are gone, and there is a slight but noticeably greater military presence on the street.  Proceedings are now underway, however, to imprison the last prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and we are hoping the mood doesn’t get ugly after she is found, one presumes, guilty.  She would be among the 150 members of her party that have now been judicially banned from politics; a party that has won every election since 2001.  In general terms, her party, the Pheu Thai, represents the countryside and the north.  People here resent what they see as repression from Bangkok and the south, and there is even talk of separating and forming their own country, with Chiang Mai as the capital.

It wouldn’t be the first time.  Chiang Mai was the center of the powerful Lanna kingdom for hundreds of years, and was at it’s peak in the 14thC.  Not that that ended particularily well: Lanna was sacked by both the neighbouring Thai kingdom of Ayutthya and the Burmese.  Yet it still maintains a cultural and linguistic distinctiveness, and a long-standing DSC_0029antipathy to the south.

At the Khao Soi stand

There is no doubt that Thailand is navigating dangerous political waters: but we aren’t here for the revolution.  We have a cute apartment on the edge of town, and spend the days cooking, filling the house with flowers, shopping, painting, studying Thai and exploring the area searching for good temple murals.  The biggest problem in our privileged universe are roosters.  The neighbours across the fence, 3 m away, are a bit, well, suffice to say we call it the Ozarks.  They have a scruffy lot and a pack of scruffy dogs and a collection of fowl that are made up disproportionally of roosters.  There is only one reason to have that many roosters – cock fighting.  It is illegal here, but still widely popular.  Someone else had the same problem, and he was basically told there was no option but to live with it or move.  Cockfighting is controlled by the local mafia, who pay off the police.  If there were complaints everyone would assume it was the local farang (foreigner) and it wouldn’t end well for him.  Sometimes, DSC_0007however, I reach a snapping point, say when we are having a morning coffee on our lovely deck and all we can hear are these plumed rapists a few meters away incessantly crowing on about how very macho they are.  There is a barrier of trees, but I have a small pile of rocks.  The roosters are getting to know me, and move off (sometimes) when they see me moving with intent.  We also try broadcasting hawk calls.  The roosters are, perhaps, a touch perplexed, but it certainly temple photo_26918-200silences the rest of the birds in the area.

Cooking here is always a pleasure, mostly because it is an excuse to go to the markets.  See our recipe for tam som o (pomelo salad) below if you are interested.  The search for temple murals is fun, but I expected there would be more around.


Monk buddies

Monk buddies

The older ones are always in poor condition.  We went to one wat, U Mong, with a reputation for it’s paintings, and they had all but disappeared!  The monsoon climate is of course a major factor.  There is also a tradition of repainting old murals, which makes perfect sense if it is the story rather than the art which is important.  The painting was done by monks, and besides the life of the Buddha there were numerous tales from scriptures and local Buddhist legends to be explored.  I love how village life and everyday scenes became part of the narrative.  There is also a curious emphasis on the hell realms, and DSC_0065the tortures that await those who follow a “sinful” path.  I don’t want to read too much into this, but the painter-monks really seemed adept at depicting the most graphic and gruesome tortures being perpetuated on naked women.  These horror paintings really are prolific, and are especially popular in the newer wats.  It’s not something most non-Asians associate with Buddhism.

Ya's cushions

Because we haven’t found it worthwhile to send a shipment from Chiang Mai, we only buy what we can carry, store it in Bangkok, and then bring massive bags back with us as our baggage allowance.  Always popular are the brightly-embroidered cushion covers, from Ya, and we have more of those, as well as the silk-screened bookmarks by Sirimar.  There are also two new products we found this year that we are quite excited about.  One is the indigo work by a Hmong tribal artist, Khun Win.  Win is passionate about his art, and gives courses in his village about indigo dying.  He uses a block printed resist-dye method, applying wax to the fabric with a carved wooden block, and then dying it.  And dying it.  And re-dying it.  It takes about 20 dye and dry immersions to get the strong colour on his pieces.

Khun Win and his indigo

Khun Win and his indigo


And, as strange as it may sound, we are bringing in some hand-sewn Japanese full-length wool kimonos.  FINALLY, you might say. They are just perfect for those winter outings to the local ryokan for a round of hot sake.  We found these beauties in a shop, and they were just too good to pass up.  There are only four, so DSC_0001whether they make it into the shop is an issue we have not yet decided.

Lots more photos have been uploaded to flickr.  Here are some, and you can see the rest at:

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Market stalls

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Wat Phra Singh Buddha

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On the deck


Temple work crew


It doesn’t have to make sense


Old buddha mural


Tom Kha soup







Golden ager



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Tam Som-o

Though a traditional salad with crab here’s is our version
Half of a pomelo will serve 3-4.
Peel and remove tender flesh from each segment. Discard all tough skin. Tamarind is sold in a sticky brick-like state with lots of fibrous bits and seeds.
Soak the tamarind block in enough boiling water to cover the fruit and leave about 10 minutes.
I used a fist-sized amount.

Stir until you have a saucy paste. Think of it as a sauce rather than a salad dressing, you will need more than you imagine. Do not use store bought tamarind sauce, it’s flavourless.
Press thru a sieve. Discard the skins and fibrous bits.
Finely chop 1 garlic clove & 1 birds eye chilli add to tamarind, along with 2-3 tbsp rice vinegar and 2 tbsp light oil and a generous dash of fish sauce. Use less chili to start, and season to taste if you don’t want it spicy.
Grate 1 tsp or so palm sugar into it and juice from1/4 of a lime.
Season to taste.
Mix well broken up pomelo into dressing, dish onto plates, top with

Pomelo salad

Pomelo salad

fried shallots, peanuts and finely chopped kaffir lime leaves.

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