Friday, April 30, 2010

Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai Thailand

After picking up my bus tickets to Chiang Rai at the station, I had the songthaew driver drop me off at one of the 300 Buddhist temples located within metropolitan Chiang Mai. Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in the city, dating back to the 13th century. It houses two important Buddha figures, one made out of marble and the other out of crystal. Outside the main structure with its teak interior columns and serpentine stair railings was the chedi, from which elephant heads protruded.

Auto Rickshaws Set to Increase

Chennai residents should prepare themselves for more of the three-wheeled contraptions with bus-yellow open sides and black tops. These are also known as tuk-tuks or autos for short. A 12-year old ban on registration of new auto rickshaws has just been lifted, as the government decided that the current number was low, particularly when compared to other Indian cities.

Currently there are 52,000 auto rickshaws in Chennai. Compare this to Hyderabad which has 64,000 and Bangalore at 78,000, even though the cities are smaller than Chennai. The article did mention though that the DMK (current Tamil Nadu party in power) government did issue permits for 10,000 auto rickshaws since assuming office, despite the ban. Bribes tend to work quite well here for getting your way....

The Minister of Transportation figured that an increased number of auto rickshaws would bring down the current fare. Yea, right.

He also expressed frustration that grants for fixing meters was not working, as auto drivers were "not ready" to use the meters. No surprise there. They can make so much more arbitrarily charging higher amounts to all, particularly non-Indians. In cities that use meters, prices are significantly lower. Yes, I know, it's still a lot cheaper than taking a taxi, but you do have to deal with negatives such as coming to school with wild wind-swept hair, getting splashed on during the rainy season, inhaling the fumes, and simply being in a thin metal crazy swerving contraption with no doors and a squeaky rubber bulb for a horn.

In the photo: Auto rickshaw all decked out for Ayda Pooja festival, complete with banana stalks, pooja markings, and floral garland. Note the horn on the side.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chiang Mai arrival

A short plane ride took me to Chiang Mai, a city of about 170,000 people in northern Thailand. It is Thailand’s fifth biggest city (about 1 million with suburbs) and is a tourist hub for those wanting to see the northern sights. I stayed in the older part of Chiang Mai, which made it quite easy to walk around and see most items of interest. A moat surrounds most of the old city, with its fountains and city wall remnants providing a useful landmark. Restored city gates served to assist in orientation as well.

While a few tuk-tuks (auto rickshaws) could be found, the dominant form of public transportation was the songthaew, a shared taxi formed out of a covered pick-up truck with two long wooden benches. Many of the red songthaews had names of several tourist sights printed in large letters, indicating (for a price) that they could take you to such places. The other common form of transport was the motorcycle/moped, popular with locals as well as the more adventurous tourist or expat. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sawatdee krup, Chiang Mai guests

Not only do the local Thai residents greet people with hands pressed together, but also Ronald McDonald. Ronald's getting global as well, adapting to different cultures! This photo was taken in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chinese Figures, Wat Arun

China's influence on the Wat Arun goes beyond the porcelain used extensively for decoration. You will also find Chinese sculptures, mainly of human figures and dogs. Not quite sure if the bottom one is very welcoming!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Demon figures at Wat Arun

Like Wat Phra Kaew, the Buddhist site Wat Arun also has its share of demon figures. While the former ones are bejeweled and gilded with gold, the ones at Wat Arun incorporate pieces of Chinese porcelain. This slightly more raw and crude approach makes the figures look more menacing. Here are a few of these "baddies."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ceramics of Wat Arun

Due to my fascination with its ceramics, I revisited Wat Arun. How they took broken Chinese porcelain used as ballast and repurposed it to decorate their chedis and temple buildings fascinates me. It reminds me a bit of the incredible mosaics found at Roman sites and at Tunisia's Bardo Museum and the work of Barcelona's Antonio Gaudi.
Here is a closeup of some plates and tiles used to create flowers. Below you can see some shallow bowls used whole as well as others broken up for more flowers and decorations on the figures. 

For more about Wat Arun's central prang, visit my previous post
See more photos of Wat Arun on my Flickr page

Grand Palace- Ornamentation Abounds

Although the temple portion of these grounds is by far my favorite, there are plenty of ornamental details in the Grand Palace portion as well. Gosh, here even the bushes get that extra attention to detail.

For more about the Grand Palace, visit my Feb 2009 posting
See more photos of the Grand Palace on my Flickr page

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tamil Nadu: Automobile Capital

Just a few years ago, if you'd ask someone to name a leading car manufacturing city, they might say Detroit. Now, Chennai will need to be on that list. Tamil Nadu (the state where Chennai is located) is the only Indian state to manufacture seven big automobile brands: Ford, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Daimler, Nissan, Renault, and BMW. According to today's paper, by 2010, Chennai would have an installed capacity to produce 1,280,000 cars and 350,000 commercial vehicles per year. Chennai is now one of the top 10 automobile manufacturing centers and also makes a variety of other wheeled structures including bikes and army tanks.
Another of Chennai's big manufacturing item is cell phones. Its Nokia plant is now the world's largest plant for cell phone manufacturing - something achieved in less than three years.
Japan is one country that is eyeing Tamil Nadu (and Chennai) as an attractive and cost-effective place for manufacturing. That doesn't surprise me, considering the increasing numbers of Japanese students at our school. Currently South Korea is by far our largest population at the school, due largely to Hyundai. We also have quite a number of American kids due to Ford and many blondies from Scandinavian countries due to Nokia.
As you can see, the success and growth of the manufacturing business here in Chennai directly impacts the school. A stable or growing foreign manufacturing base is definitely what the school is looking for.

Demon Figures, Wat Phra Kaew

Demon-like figures on chedis at Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Details of Wat Phra Kaew

A year ago when I visited the Wat Phra Kaew, I only had my little point and shoot. This time I brought my DSLR and zoom lens. Here are a few shots of this famous Buddhist site in Bangkok, adjoined to the Grand Palace..
See more photos and writings on the Wat Phra Kaew 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wat Traimit, Bangkok

Just past the Chinese gate in the middle of a round-a-bout is the Wat Traimit. It is also known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha, as it houses a 3 m high Buddha figure made of solid gold. This 13th century sculpture was dropped in 1950, revealing the true nature of the piece under a rather unimpressive stucco false exterior. I actually liked the Chinese-style temple in front of the Tian Fa Hospital on the main drag Thanon Yaowarat Street. The vertical signs protruding from buildings with their Chinese characters tell you that you are definitely in Bangkok’s Chinatown. This street is well known for its many gold shops. A peek through the windows of these shops reveal a common scene: red colored display material on the wall, a long countertop, several Chinese-looking people behind the counter and more in front of it, and of course, nearly artificially yellow gold chains contrasting against the red display.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Streets of Bangkok's Chinatown

A few streets away, plastics gave way to motors and machine parts. Nothing glamorous about these shops, but they must be doing well enough for so many to stay in business. In some places the drab motor stores gave way to bright red stores containing glittering gold jewelry, exaggerated by plenty of mirrors. Catering to another sense were the spice stores. Even before approaching one, you could already inhale the strong scents. In front of some stores one could see small, low displays of amulets. Potential buyers peered carefully through magnifying glasses to ascertain the quality and design of these miniature pieces. Also along the sidewalks or just outside openings of shops were women (and a few men) engaged in beauty treatments. Some had a white cream spread over their face – perhaps for skin whitening? Others were engaged in eyebrow plucking, achieved with string in the deft hands of the beautician.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bangkok - Sampeng Lane

Not interested in the glass palaces of the high-end shopping malls, I decided to pay the streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown a visit. Once again I took the Skytrain/riverboat taxi combination transportation option. Following the Lonely Planet’s map, I headed towards Sampeng Lane. Indeed, this shopping street was very crowded. Dollies full of more goods were being pushed through the crowds of people who had to sometimes jump towards the racks and displays in order to get out of the way. A motorcycle trying to get through made you move even faster. Vying for one’s attention was a lot of cheap Chinese crap. Colorful plastic-looking jewelry, stickers and temporary tattoos, and T-shirts with a variety of English phrases or pop icons were available for the taking. Rows and shelves of sandals and purses also abounded, including quite a selection of Crocs knockoffs. For the Bangkok native sporting both a regular cell phone and a Blackberry or iPhone, plenty of fuzzy, studded, or character cell phone covers could be had. For those tiring of shopping, food stalls were squeezed in between the stalls. As for me, I didn’t find the scene or its goods very inspiring, so I moved on.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Broomsticks - or Food?

When walking outside of the Pak Klong Talat market, my eye caught these bundled seed pods. I presume they will be used in food, but the way they were bundled, they resembled the brooms I saw both in Thailand and in India. I wonder how well they would work for that....

Monday, April 12, 2010

Three for Ten

These hand-sized garlands made of jasmine, roses, and marigolds were on sale outside of the market as well as on many sidewalks. Three for ten baht - that's 31 cents!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thai Orchids

In addition to being a leading exporter of orchids, there is a local demand for these exotic flowers as well. The Pak Klong Talat market was well stocked with these beauties as well. Many of the orchids are grown outside of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Should have visited an orchid farm while I was up there!

When departing the plane, a Thai Airways flight attendant gave all the females a corsage of orchids. An unexpected, but nice touch. I wonder how many orchids the airline uses just in one day!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pak Klong Talat Market, Bangkok

Local markets provide an excellent opportunity to experience a bit of local culture. In Bangkok I visited the Pak Klong Talat market in the early morning, located near the Memorial Bridge pier. I avoided all traffic by taking the Skytrain system and then the local riverboat taxi. Once inside the market, I was immediately welcomed by the perfumed scent of jasmine. The white flowers, also a prominent feature in South India, were being weighed and placed into plastic bags. On other tables, impossibly large piles of orchids in purple, yellow, and orange glistened with drops of moisture. How much would those flowers sell for in the USA? In terms of bulk though, the marigolds took the prize. Vendors had to peek over the bags of prepackaged golden-yellow flowers that were being sold for around 35 baht (approximately $1) per bag. In other stalls one could see the marigolds strung into long garlands with a “tassle” created with white jasmine-like flowers or plastic, a purple ball-like flower, and gathered marigolds for the tassel. On other tables women were busy stringing hand-sized wreaths out of jasmine, roses, and marigolds. If you didn’t fancy buying real flowers for your temple offerings, you could buy plastic counterparts, available in a multitude of colors. The market also contained items such as produce, meat, and clothing, but I chose to move on towards the Grand Palace in order to avoid the major heat of the day.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Photos posted: Chiang Rai

After spending a couple of days in Chiang Mai, I went up to Chiang Rai, even closer to the northern border in Thailand. Most of my time was spent on a hill-tribe related tour. Here is a link to the Flickr photos I posted. Travelog writings to follow in the next couple of weeks...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Chiang Mai photos posted

I have now posted photos of my trip to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Visit my Flickr page. Travelog to follow soon!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

He is Risen!

This fresco (copy at Belgrade's Fresco Museum of the original at Mileseva Monastery as seen below) depicts a most joyous message - the Easter announcement by the angel to the women that Jesus had arisen. Death could no longer hold the triumphal Savior who had successfully atoned for our sins and had victory over Satan. The angel is pointing to the tomb and linens which had been wrapped around Jesus' crucified body on Good Friday.

The most celebrated fresco in Mileseva's Holy Resurrection Church, the White (or Belo in Serbian) Angel is a revered symbol of Serbia and an emblem for the United Nations. 
Read more about Mileseva Monastery on my blog