Songkran, the world's largest and most joyful water fight is here again. After weeks of blast furnace like temperatures, time for everyone in Chiang Mai, and all over Thailand, to cool off a bit with some water throwing.
Had a nice visit on Friday night with a long-time Thai friend who is currently living in Malaysia. My friend "X" is a native of Chiang Mai, yet has a unique means of looking at himself and his countrymen in that he spent 5 years living in California, and received his engineering degree from UCLA. "X" has a very responsible position with a department of the Thai government and is currently on TDY in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
We were discussing the fact that having lived here for over a decade, I love the country and people, but I still find it somewhat difficut to understand the average Thai person [and will never understand Thai politicians].
In essence, "X" commented:
"Well, don't feel alone. Most Thai do not begin to understand themselves — nor do most even try.
They seem to be incapable of learning about their own country, being too deeply entangled in the characteristics of their 'Thai-ness', which prevents them from seeking the truth.
They wallow in superstition, in the importance of image over substance, and of social harmony over truth — they seem to have an unrealistic tolerance of social ills, and a willingness to smooth things over instead of addressing ugly social problems head on.
It is difficult for most Thai to separate their image of themselves as being Thai, from the reality of who they truly are as human beings."
Several days ago I briefly described, and presented a video, about the process of becoming a Buddhist monk here in Thailand. Several years ago when my neighbor and very good friend Pae [also known as 'Justin'] went through the ordination process, I later wrote about it. Even posted it on another of my personal web sites, 'Chiang Mai Tales'. This is the link to the complete story of Justin's ordination.
Many years ago I also went though the Buddhist ordination process, though mine was in 1955 and occurred at the Eiheiji monastery [永平寺] in western Japan. Many of the features of the process were similar, though couched in the customs and traditions of Japan. I have also written about that process, and the events which led up to it, in 'The Repository'. This is the link leading up to my own Buddhist ordination process.
The attached video of the Eiheiji monastery was taken by my good buddy from Oz, Yakov Smirnoff when he visited there several years ago.
"Established in 1244 and Japan's most active zen meditation monastery since the late 16th century, Eihei-ji, Temple of Eternal Peace, is about 30 minutes by bus from Fukui and is home to about 50 elders and 250 black-robed trainees. This serene community, set on the slopes of a mountain and surrounded by cedars, is moss-green in summer, and serenaded by cicadas. In winter, snow arrives to transform the complex into a glistening white mountainscape."
This video is so typical of life here in the Land of Smiles. Abunant music [occasionally quite loud], smiling happy people, a wonderful comraderie, and of course lots of alchohol to keep the gears of society well lubricated.
Nearly every young male in Thailand becomes a monk at some point. although most only do it for one month. The street, or neighborhood, party occurs on the day before the young men go to the local wat [temple] for the offical ceremony which takes about five hours and includes having their heads shaved.
Continuing with some of the outstanding food available here in the north of the country. Khao soi [ ข้าวซอย ] is a Burmese-influenced dish served widely in northern Thailand. One of my favorites for its smooth, yet robust flavor.
Northern Thai khao soi is closer to the present day Burmese 'on ne khauk swe', being a soup-like dish made with deep-fried crispy egg noodles, chicken in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk and served with pickled cabbage, shallots, bean sprouts, cilantro, lime, and ground chillies. The curry is somewhat similar to that of yellow or massaman curry but of a thinner consistency. It is popular as a dish eaten by nearly everyone around Chiang Mai and in northern Thailand, allthough relatively unknown outside of this area.
March is just around the corner, and as the temperatures continue to climb, a refreshing way to beat the heat is with Som Tam.
Som Tam, is a famous dish from Isaan, popular all over Thailand and also known as 'Green Papaya Salad'.
I have encountered, and enjoyed, Som Tam in very posh restaurants and as a staple fare of street food. It is always exciting, refreshing, and absolutely delicious, with as many minor variations as there are Thai cooks. Of course I personally enjoy eating spicy dishes. One minor complaint is when the flavor from the amount of chiles used so dominates this classic dish that the other ingredients cannot be discerned.
Basic ingredients: chillies garlic small dried shrimp unripe papaya long beans tamarind concentrate lime juice fish sauce palm sugar, cherry tomatoes, unsalted roasted peanuts cucumber garnish
But on to the book itself. I recall that as a child in our native Slovakia my father, a history professor, advised me, "Otázka všetko" [Question everything]. Advice that has served me well for over seven decades. That one phrase has helped me to deciper the psycho-babble of politicians, military leaders, religious leaders, obtuse professors, and even historians. Throughout my life I have been challenged to look beyond the clever words people use, and into the substance.
Though I chose the career path of literature, my secondary interest has always been in science and 'questioning everything'. 'The Physics Book' almost seems as if it were written specifically for me since it questions, and provides a response, for every significant event in the history of the universe from the Big Bang to trillions of years into the future.
The format of this handsome book is unique in that each of the 250 milestones in the history of physics also has a full page illustrative graphic image.
And more importantly, it is thrilling reading. God, how I wish this magnificent tome had been available when I took my compulsory college course in physics years ago. Now that class, and professor, gave a new meaning to dull.
'The Physics Book' is an absolute joy to read, and it does indeed 'question everything'.
Spent this last weekend with a Thai friend at Doi Inthanon National Park, a little over an hour's drive from my home here in Northern Thailand. It contains the highest spot in the country at 2,565 m [8,415 ft.], an abundance of natural beauty, both flora and fauna, and the site of the Napamaytanidol Chedi which features two stately stupas erected in honour of the present King and Queen of Thailand. The climate up at the top is somewhat cool at all times of the year and the sun can often be temporarily obscured by the sudden appearance of soft enveloping clouds.
There is a pleasant nature walk at the summit with a National Park guide which includes passing through a succession of differing micro-climates - from drippy rain-forest, mountain meadows, vistas of valleys far below and even includes native rhododendrons [Doi Inthanon is the most southerly extension of the Himalayan mountain range].
[click to enlarge]
The Queen's stupa
Within the Doi Inthanon park is the Napamaytanidol Chedi, which includes sweeping vistas of the valley below. The two Royal stupas commemorate the 60th birthday of the King and Queen and have a number of exquisite tiled murals and are surrounded by well tended gardens. However, cloud cover is frequent and visibility can change from one moment to the next.
Loy Krathong is a festival celebrated annually throughout Thailand, and also known as 'The Festival of Lights'. It is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar.This year it falls on November 2. Well, that is the official calendar date for most of the festivities, but the neighborhood parties started today and will continue tomorrow, with the big blowout on Tuesday night.
Nearly every village, town or city will have a community festival or parade or waterside gathering.
During the festival period many people will release a small floating raft fashioned from banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense on a klong, lake or river as a thanksgiving for the water which has been released as rain during this past monsoon period.
Here in northern Thailand it is also celebrated by the release of thousands of khom fai, or sky lanterns.
Rhinocerous Beetles [Chalcosoma atlas] are quite common here in Northern Thailand, and especially abundant at this time of the year. Kids frequently collect them and keep them as short term pets. They look rather fearsome, but are quite gentle, and easy to care for. Given a bit of sugarcane they are happy for days. They are quite powerful, but reserve their prowess in fighting other males for female beetles. It is claimed that they can lift up to 800 times their own weight. Primarily black, their shell-like backs are also respendent with many irridescent colors.
Some of the more aggressive ones are pressed into service by grownups who enjoy beetle fightiing, a common pastime [and source of considerable money changing hands] in many villages. Two different male beetles are placed on a log. The two beetles will battle each other, trying to push each other off the log, the one to stay on the log is the winner.