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Lazy Days and Pi Mai Laos

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. OK, it’s only April, but it sure feels like lazy summertime days. This is the hottest time of year in Laos, with temperatures regularly near the hundred degree mark (38 C.) Tomorrow it’s supposed to be 104 degrees. The monsoon season is in June, July and August, so the temperature doesn’t normally get as hot as in April and May, since the wet weather has a bit of a cooling effect.

Our school is on break until May 10th, so I’ve been hanging out at the house during the day. In the afternoon, it certainly feels like the song, Summertime, suggests. I’m about 500 feet from the main road that runs into Vientiane, so the traffic noise is somewhat muted. In the afternoon, everything is very quiet: the neighbors’ kids are in school, the grown-ups, most of them, are at work and the only thing you can hear is the buzzing of flies. Obviously, I keep a fan blowing. (No air-con) I mostly lie down and read a book and take a nap. Very peaceful and pleasant (despite the heat). Until today, that is. Today, April 13th marks the start of the traditional Laos New Year, Pi Mai Lao (Pee-my). There will be plenty of noisy parties going on, with extremely loud music playing into the early hours. Goodbye relaxation time for several days.

The holiday is also celebrated in Thailand, where it’s called Songkran, and in Cambodia, Myanmar and some other parts of Southeast Asia. Traditionally, the holiday runs from April 13-15, but the Lao government, not content with a three-day weekend, has dictated that, because the 14th and 15th is Saturday and Sunday, Pi Mai will also include Monday and Tuesday. So, it’s a five-day weekend.

Probably the biggest feature of the event is the inclusion of water. By this, I mean the traditional activity of cleaning house and also of pouring a bit of water over the various Buddha statues in the local temple as part of a purification rite. But, the main focus in many parts of Laos, and in Thailand, is throwing water on other people, drenching foreigners and natives alike in large-scale water fights, especially in the cities. I’m going out to my former village today, where the celebration is a bit gentler. I’ve posted about Pi Mai before, here, here and here.

I’ll take plenty of photos and get them posted as soon as I can. Gotta wrap my camera and cell phone up in plastic grocery bags before I head out on the main road, where I’ll try to avoid water-throwing kids. I can probably avoid getting too wet there, but when I get to the dirt road going to the village, I’ll have to slow down and it’s very possible I’ll get soaked before I get to where I’m going. So, I’m going to wear some light, drip-dry clothing and hope the heat and the sun will dry me quickly. Just part of the deal, I guess, but it’s all in fun. I’ll get my licks in at Nai’s family’s party. More later.

Wonder what I’ll look like during this year’s celebration. This is from last year.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Well, that finishes this year’s Pi Mai Lao celebration. One more photo to show. Here are a few friends posing for the camera. Nai’s on the left and a friend, name unknown, is on the right, but who’s the old fart in the middle? Got his face and clothes powdered, I see. He looks fairly full from eating all that fish and rice. Guess he had a good time. See ya next year, sport.

Photo Art – Window Into Infinity

For various reasons, mostly inexcusable ones, I haven’t been doing much in the way of creating any photo art lately, though I have continued the learning process. I’ve even signed up for another artistic learning site, the highly recommended Shift Art Summit course. But, my long creative drought has ended with this piece, which I’m titling “Window Into Infinity.”

I started working on it in December, but I put it aside for awhile until just a few days ago, when inspiration and motivation got me going again. It’s a combination of about ten different images and several adjustment layers in Photoshop. So, without further ado, here it is. Enjoy.

Bangkok in December, Part 2

As promised, here are some photos in part 2 of my visit to Bangkok this past December.

I usually stay in the Silom section of Bangkok at the Silom City Hotel, which is near the extremely interesting Hindu temple of Mariamman. I don’t know if you could call this the Hindu section of Bangkok, but a stroll around the area offers paintings and murals of Hindu interest. Walking up Silom road I saw these paintings–bright, colorful, beautiful.

Hindu painting

Hindu Painting (I think) that I saw on Silom Road.

Hindu painting

Another Hindu inspired painting on Silom Road. Check out the litte mouse near the lower left corner–cute.

The Mahboonkrong (MBK) Shopping Center always has some kind of exhibition outside the main entrance and December through January was the “Amazing Carnival” display. Amazing it was, and, though it’s a short walk around the plaza, you could spend quite a while taking in this bizarre but delightfully fantastic exhibit. Most of the photos below don’t contain any captions, because what could I say about them. Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words (or imaginations). (Note that there were a lot of people walking around and it was difficult to get many “uncluttered” shots.)

MBK Christmas tree

Here’s a night shot of the main entrance to MBK, featuring an 18 meter (60 feet) Christmas “tree.”

band

There’s gotta be a band leading the performers into the carnival, like a circus coming into town. So, here’s the small ensemble.

This is the main feature.
All the smaller characters are scattered around her.

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

MBK "Amazing Carnival"

And, back to the start.

There is usually some kind of display on the skywalk from MBK to the skytrain station. At this time, the display featured cats. Nai and I found ourselves attracted to them.

Nai and cat

Nai enjoys the company of one of the felines near the National Stadium skytrain station.

Ron and cat

This guy is the cat’s meow, don’t you think?

That’s it for the Bangkok trip. I don’t know what’s up next on the blog, but I haven’t worked on my photo art in quite a while, so I’ll probably concentrate on that and try to get some stuff posted here. More later.

Bangkok in December, Part 1

Here are a few photos from my stay in Bangkok around Christmas this past December. In this part are some shots of the “Rubik’s Cube” building, as someone else termed it. It’s actually called the MahaNakhon Tower and it’s the tallest building in Thailand at 314 meters (1030 feet). “The Edition” hotel will be In the lower third of the building and the upper sections will be devoted to Ritz-Carlton condos. It’s supposed to be finished and ready for use sometime this year, but I think some of the condos might already be occupied. See the night shot of the building below.

MahaNakhon Tower

Remember the “Rubik’s Cube” building from previous posts? It’s called the MahaNakhon Tower and it’s almost finished. It’s the tallest building in Bangkok and it really dominates the skyline with its height and striking design.

Bangkok at night

Bangkok at night. Notice the MahaNakhon tower at the left. It appears that quite a few of the rooms at the top are lit, suggesting that perhaps some of the condos are open.

Here are some closer views of the building. It’s located right next to the Chong Nonsi skytrain station, a stop that Nai and I use all the time. I don’t know how I missed the building before. I took these shots from near the station.

MahaNakhon Tower

Shot taken from near the Chong Nonsi skytrain station, just down from central Silom

MahaNakhon Tower

A much closer view of the tower.

The tower looms over you this close to it. I took this shot from “The Square” at the front of the building.

In “The Square,” the front courtyard of MahaNakhon, sits an interesting sculpture, “Bangkok Soul”. From the MahaNakhon website:

MahaNakhon Square features a 9 meter tall sculpture by Jaume Plensa “Bangkok Soul” featuring various letters from different languages combining in a crouching human form.

Here are a couple of photos of “The Square” and of the sculpture. Click the second one to enlarge it and see the individual letters making up the “man.”

"The Square" at MahaNakhon Tower

A photo of “The Square” at the base of the tower. This area also contains an upscale restaurant and shopping areas. If you look closely, you can see some construction workers in the final phases of finishing off the exterior.

"Bangkok Soul" sculpture

“Bangkok Soul.” Click a couple of times to enlarge it to see the individual letters making up the piece.

In Part 2 of Bangkok in December, I’ll show some photos of the delightfully strange “carnival” exhibition at the MBK Shopping Mall.

Bangkok Bound

In my previous post I mentioned, more or less, that this was my favorite time of year in Laos because of the weather. I also like it because it’s the end of the third term at the school, so that means there’s some time off, about five weeks. So, foot-loose and fancy-free, I’m bound for Bangkok with Nai for a week.

We’re crossing the border into Nong Khai, Thailand, and then taking an early morning bus to Udon Thani to catch a noon flight to Bangkok. The ride to Udon takes about an hour, so we’ll probably leave Nong Khai around 9 a.m. The flight to Bangkok takes an hour, so we’ll get into “The Big Mango” around 1:00 and be at the hotel about 2:30 or 3:00. It usually takes about an hour (everything takes an hour, eh?) to get into the city by taxi and the ride costs around $10, if I remember correctly. Not a bad deal.

As usual, we’re staying in the Silom area of the city, close to good street food, entertainment venues and the skytrain and subway. Speaking of entertainment, I’ve just gotta go see the latest Star Wars movie. I’ve heard a lot of good things about, so it’s a must-see.

Here are a few photos from previous trips to Bangkok.

Bangkok Skyline

Here’s the view outside our hotel window up on the ninth floor (out of 10). If you stay at the Silom City Hotel, be sure to get a room that’s 8th floor or higher for a great view.

Bangkok at night

Bangkok at Night. This photo was taken in 2013 and the one above in 2016. You can see that a few new buildings, including the odd one on the left, were constructed in the three years between photos.

Food vendor

Food vendor near the hotel. There are a lot of these little outfits about a block from where we stay.

Winter in Laos

Ahh, it’s the best time of the year in Laos, and in most of South East Asia, I suppose. The winter months give us almost perfect weather–highs mostly in the mid- to low-eighties and lows in the fifties to high-forties. Those low temperatures can seem quite chilly if you’re used to much higher temperatures. If you spend winter in more northerly climes, like Montana, they might feel balmy by comparison.

Overcast, rainy weather is usually not a problem (it hasn’t rained since October) and the haze-free skies are a delight. That will end in February when the farmers start burning the stubble from their fields, here and in many areas of S.E. Asia.

If you ever get the urge to visit Laos, now is the time to come if you want to enjoy the country under optimal weather conditions. Here are a couple of photos from recent mornings, my favorite time of day.

morning light in Laos

If we have a decently-colored sunrise, the trees and the neighbors’ houses take on a beautiful color. This view is looking out my living room window towards the west.

morning fog near Vientiane, Laos

This shot is looking out the kitchen window towards the north. We don’t get a lot of heavy fog since we’re not near the river, but it’s not unusual to get some. It burns off quite quickly.

Finger Exercise 1

From the Photoshop Artistry course, this is a finger exercise, which is supposed to be a warm-up activity to get the creative juices flowing. These short exercises shouldn’t take more than 15-30 minutes, and the outcome isn’t all that important. They’re kind of like doing stretching exercises before a jogging session. However, I’m still learning, and this took quite a while to do, longer than it might take other folks.

This is a photo I took near Azrou, Morocco way back when. I used a sketch technique that I learned in the course and added some texture layers, also from the course. (Not so) short and sweet.

Viewpoint near Azrou, Morocco.

Used a sketch technique in Photoshop to create this version of a nice viewpoint near the Moroccan town of Azrou.

Photo Art-A work in progress

Here’s my latest photo art project, which I’m still working on. I’m not nearly satisfied with it, so I’ll continue to tweak it until I feel OK about it. I’m thinking of entitling it “Dancing at the Demon’s Crypt” or some such thing. The boy at the front is Nai’s niece’s son, Leo. I’ll keep working on it and get the final version posted here soon, I hope.

dancing at the demon's crypt

Leo having some fun.

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

Today is the annual Boat Racing Festival in Vientiane. Too bad I won’t be attending. While virtually every other institution, (schools, government offices, banks, embassies, as well as restaurants and other businesses) is shut down, our school, Vientiane College, has decided, as usual, to remain open.

I really enjoy going to boat races in Laos, but I’m not going today because I have to work later. Although my lesson plans for this evening’s classes have been made, I’m not going down to the race area to enjoy a few hours of the races. It’s sunny and warm today, so I’d just end up getting sweaty and smelly, and, then, I’d have to motorbike back to the house, take a shower and get back to school. Not worth it. I really like spending the whole day at a race, not having to worry about being somewhere else later.

The school always gives some flimsy excuse for not being shut down. There was a post on the notice board advising teachers to tell students that the school is not being culturally insensitive or unaware, but the reason for remaining open is that authorities don’t give the school enough advance notice as to when the race will be held. That’s pure hogwash! We received the 2018 school calendar a few weeks ago and it shows that the boat race next year is on October 25th, which, fortuitously, coincides with the beginning of the mid-term break next October. That’s more than a year away. Not enough advance notice? Bull crap. If any of my students who show up tonight ask why we’re open, I’ll just tell them to ask the school administration. I’m sure as hell not going to give them the school’s excuse of “not enough advance notice.”

Now, having said that, the school is still, usually, a great place to work. It just gets under my skin (and is depressing) that we’re one of the very few institutions that are open today, and that the school, since I’ve been here, has never closed for this particular holiday. Ah, well, next year, I guess.

Photo Art – Gateway to the Underworld

Here’s my latest creation, “Gateway to the Underworld.” I took the photo of the entryway itself at the nearby Cultural Park, an exhibit of traditional Lao houses. One of the houses was built on a rocky mound and it had a couple of lower floor doorways to an area that could serve as a basement or storage cellar. As soon as I saw these entries, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. Here’s the original photo.

Entryway

Lower entrance to the basement or cellar.

So, I then desaturated the original, added some images I found on Pixabay, applied some textured layers that came with the Photoshop Artistry course, and experimented with adding light and color gradients in Photoshop. Voila! Gateway to the Underworld.

Gateway to the Underworld

Enter, if you dare.