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Stunning Disappointment . . . and Revelation

The Disappointment

On Thursday, June 25th, following an early morning workshop and lunch at one of the local Italian restaurants, I ‘biked back to The Farm, looking forward to our short mid-term break, despite an oddity of earlier in the day. As I was leaving for Vientiane that morning, a painter’s truck pulled up. I asked Nai what was going on, and he said he wanted to paint part of the house. This was news to me, and I told him I wasn’t going to pay for it. He said that it was free, but he couldn’t tell me why. Very strange, I thought.

When I got back to the house that afternoon, I was shocked to see that everything had been removed from the house and that a gang of painters was painting the outside a shade of lime-green and repainting the inside beige. A few carpenters were constructing something upstairs. What the hell was going on? I was quite angry, because I could see that I wouldn’t be able to sleep here tonight. The family members saw how angry I was and a few came up to me and said “Sorry.” Sorry for what? Nai was nowhere around.

One of them handed me a note written in English. It more or less stated that this was no longer Nai’s house, that it was now owned by the painter. It seems that Nai had borrowed around $6,500 from the guy when Nai’s mother was ill and dying about three years ago. He had been doing everything he could to keep her alive. Very admirable, but for reasons I won’t get into here, he hadn’t even been trying to pay back the money.

What ticked me off the most was that he didn’t tell me what was going on. If he had come to me, we could have possibly worked something out with the painter or whatever he is. I do know that he’s one of the son’s of the aging lady that Nai bought the house from, and I heard that, at the time, he was dead-set on her not selling it. Since then he’s been lusting at getting the house back, so he probably wouldn’t have come to any kind of agreement anyway. My disappointment in Nai, however, was profound.

Well, I stormed back into Vientiane, vowing to break off my friendship with Nai. I stayed at a cheap guesthouse and fumed. The next day, Nai finally worked up the courage to call me and apologize. I think he was very ashamed and embarrassed. I had calmed down somewhat and we arranged to meet at The Farm the next day. I felt sorry for him more than anything, though I was still angry.

He told me of a couple of vacated houses that belonged to some of his cousins. They were being rented out for, get this, about $37 a month. I supposed they were in terrible condition. We looked at the first one and it was little more than a concrete bunker in shabby condition and located in a rundown area of the village.

The Revelation

Before we even looked at the second house, I was preparing myself to rent a place in Vientiane, which would be rather nice for me. You can get a decent place for a couple hundred bucks a month and there would be no commuting back and forth.

We went to the second place, and, while not perfect, it’s the place I would have said earlier, on first arriving last year, “This is it!”

It’s much smaller than Nai’s old house, but it’s in much better condition. It’s only about a 10-minute walk from the other place, and it’s in a beautiful location. The old house is surrounded by other houses and buildings, which made me feel claustrophobic at times. In addition, any cooling breeze was drastically reduced by the buildings. The new place has one house next door and fields on all other sides. We’re surrounded on three sides by banana groves (now only stalks, waiting for the rain to help with their regrowth), with several cornfields and vegetable patches further out. So, I have much better views here, there always seems to be a nice breeze during the day, and it’s much, much quieter. The floors are tiled, unlike the bare concrete of the old place. It also has a nice front porch that’s shaded by a large tree in the afternoon. It’s really quite lovely.

One drawback is that it has an Asian style squat toilet, something I’ll have to get used to using, hopefully without any unseemly accidents, if you know what I mean.

All in all, I really like the place, and I’m quite happy to have found it, despite the circumstances leading up to the change. Although I’m still disappointed with Nai, our friendship endures.

New house looking south

This is a view of the front porch, looking toward the south. There’s a nice-sized living area, a bedroom, a small back storage room, a toilet and an outdoor cooking area. The small storage room could be converted to a cooking area.

Here's another view of the new house, looking toward the south-west. The front porch is in the shade cast by a large tree just outside the view. All the rooms have several shutters to allow the usually good breeze to circulate throughout the house, though it's still hot at night.

Here’s another view of the new house, looking toward the south-west. The front porch is in the shade cast by a large tree just outside the view. All the rooms have several shutters to allow the usually good breeze to circulate throughout the house, though it’s still hot at night.

This is a view from the front porch looking west toward a temple on the dirt road that runs through the village. This place is about three times as far from the road as Nai's old house, which helps to make it a much quieter location.

This is a view from the front porch looking west toward a temple on the dirt road that runs through the village. This place is about three times as far from the road as Nai’s old house, which helps to make it a much quieter location.

Another Nongkhai Attraction

Just one more thing about Nongkhai before I do a Bangkok post. Another small attraction in this laid back, small town is the wall around Wat Si Chom Chuen (I think that’s the name of the temple, though I could be wrong.) Lining at least one section of the wall are murals (stucco) with scenes of traditional, daily Thai life. They’re quite interesting and well-done. Now, it’s possible that there may be more of these around the other walls, but I didn’t get a chance to explore them all. I’ll leave that for next time or for you to do.

Here’s the temple in question; it’s just across the street from the Danish Baker restaurant. You can see a few of the murals by the motorbike in the lower right corner.

Nongkhai temple

Nongkhai Temple

Here, then, are some of the murals. I didn’t get all of them, so, if you’re ever in Nongkhai, try to check them out.

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

Nongkhai mural

Nongkhai Mural

So, that evening, Nai and I set out for Bangkok on the overnight train. There were some impressive clouds building up near the train station, but they eventually drifted into Laos. Here’s a shot I took and converted to an HDR photo, just playing around–probably with not that much success. It’s fun trying, though.

Storm coming

Storm Coming

I’ll soon do a final post of my most recent visit to Bangkok, including some beautiful (I hope) night shots of the skyline.

A Temple Visit

I’m back in warm, humid Yeosu, working (hardly working, actually–we don’t have that many classes right at the moment). Kind of dull, so let’s continue with my recent vacation in Thailand and Laos.

On one of my final days in Vientiane, Nai needed to visit Wat Si Muang, a Buddhist temple, where he wanted to pray with a monk. One of his brothers is going through a rough time, and Nai wanted to seek the help of Buddha. Nai went into the main temple building, and I waited around outside for him. I took these photos while waiting. (I also have another post about this wat from 2010.)

I don’t know why this great-looking car was parked in front of the temple. Was it for a blessing? Did someone get married and leave the car outside while they went inside for a blessing? It seems a bit incongruous, the old and the new together.

Car at temple

Car at Temple

Here are a couple of shots of the details on one of the outside walls of the temple. It’s interesting to wander around any Buddhist temple and discover all the intricate little things that you might not notice at first glance.

Temple wall

Temple Wall

Temple wall detail

Temple Wall Detail

Temple wall detail

Temple Wall Detail

And the statuary is also fascinating. I believe these are mainly supposed to protect the temple from evil spirits. Here’s one of them.

Temple statue

Temple Statue

Next to the main temple, I spotted this building, which might be an administration building or the living quarters of the monks. I didn’t dare go inside; there weren’t any signs forbidding entry, but it looked like more of a private place than one open to the public.

Adjunct building

Adjunct Building

Our trip to the temple finished, we went to one of our favorite eateries, an outdoor restaurant near the river. I can never remember the name of the place, so I should write it down next time I’m there. It’s the something something Beer Garden, if memory serves me correctly. The lady and her family who run the place are all very friendly, and the food is pretty decent, too. Just outside the restaurant is this jackfruit tree. One of the large fruits had fallen off, and the owner had cut out the fruit. She gave us a generous dish, on the house. I didn’t take a photo of the fruit, but below the first shot is what it looks like. (I “borrowed” the photo from the internet, where it appears on several other websites.) And, no, I’ve never seen any birds in the cage hanging from the tree.

Jackfruit tree

Jackfruit Tree

Jackfruit

Jackfruit

Hey, what are you smiling at, buddy?

My friend Nai

A Smiling Nai

After leaving Vientiane the next morning, we went to Nongkhai to spend a few days before heading down to Bangkok. I’ll have a few photos from Nongkhai in my next post. More later.

Wat Traimit

As I indicated in the previous Chinatown post, I did have enough time to tour Wat Traimit, one of the big attractions of Chinatown. According to the link on that post, the Golden Buddha in Traimit is the world’s largest solid gold Buddha image, weighing in at 5.5 tons and standing 15 feet tall (although the image is seated). So, at today’s gold prices, the image is worth quite a few millions of dollars!

Wat Traimit Buddha

Wat Traimit Buddha

There’s also an interesting history of the 13th century statue, a history involving deception and discovery. Again, check out the link to read about the image.

Here’s another smaller Buddha image that’s near the Golden Buddha.

Wat Traimit Small Buddha Statue

Wat Traimit Small Buddha Statue

There’s also a detailed history of Chinatown located in a second-floor exhibition, which shows 3D life-sized scenes of daily living and which also includes a scale model of Chinatown as it looked in the mid 1950s or so. This was the only photo I got of the exhibition, since most museums and similar places don’t allow you to take photos. I didn’t see any signs forbidding it, but I didn’t want to offend anyone. At the final exhibit, the scale model of Chinatown, I saw someone else taking a shot, so I figured it was ok and took the one below. As with all the photos taken this vacation trip, I had only my pocket point-and-shoot with me. It’s a good camera, but it doesn’t do too well in dark lighting, so I had to crank up the ISO to capture this shot. In post-processing, I removed most of the digital noise that’s usually present with high ISO settings, but in doing so, the image lost some of its sharpness, as you can see in the photo below. I’ll have to bring along my small tripod next time.

Wat Traimit Chinatown Exhibit

Wat Traimit Chinatown Exhibit

And, of course, here are a few shots of the exterior of the wat. As you can see, Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is honored everywhere.

Wat Traimit exterior

Wat Traimit

Wat Traimit Bell

Wat Traimit Bell

Wat Traimit 3D Mosaic

Wat Traimit 3D Mosaic

This one is looking up to the spire from a position close to one of the outside walls.

Wat Traimit

Wat Traimit

Directly next door to Wat Traimit is a smaller temple, sort of an annex. Here’s a detail shot of the roof of that area.

Wat Traimit annex

Wat Traimit annex roof detail

Also next to Traimit is a boys’ school (well, I didn’t see any girls, so I assume it’s a boys’ school). At the entrance to the school is a statue of a scholar (again, I assume) from days gone by. Here are the kids during what appears to be recess.

Boys' school next to Wat Traimit.

Boys' School recess

And the scholar.

Boys' school statue

Boys' school scholar statue.

Finally, I did have some time to go to the Siam Paragon shopping mall to buy some reading material. They usually have some kind of display outside the center, and this year’s set-up featured an Alice in Wonderland motif. (Pretty girls not included) Quite colorful.

Siam Paragon display

Alice in Wonderland at Siam Paragon shopping center

OK, that’s about it for the Bangkok portion of the trip. It feels like I’ve kind of over-saturated the blog with too many photos of the trip already, so I’ll just post a few more from Nong Khai and Laos a bit later. In the meantime, I’ll process the new Expo 2012 photos I took this past Saturday and get those up soon. More later.

Laos-Thailand Trip Report: Bangkok’s Chinatown

In all my previous visits to Bangkok, I’d never visited Chinatown, except for a crazy tuk-tuk ride on my way to another area several years ago. I’ve read and heard that this section of Bangkok is one of the city’s most interesting and fascinating to visit. Here’s what Lonely Planet has to say about it:

“Bangkok’s Chinatown is the urban explorer’s equivalent of the Amazon Basin. The highlights here are a rather complicated web of tiny alleyways, crowded markets and delicious street stalls. Unlike other Chinatowns around the world, Bangkok’s is defiantly ungentrified, and getting lost in it is probably the best thing that could happen to you. The neighbourhood dates back to 1782 and relatively little has changed since then. You can still catch conversations in various Chinese dialects, buy Chinese herbal cures or taste Chinese dishes not available elsewhere in Thailand. Getting in and out of Chinatown is hindered by horrendous traffic but the area is a brief walk from Hualamphong Metro station.”

Although my time in Bangkok was very limited this trip, I decided to take a brief excursion to the Chinatown area, knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to see it in depth. I had several hours to kill before I hopped aboard the overnight express to Nong Khai, so I dropped off my big bag at the luggage holding room at Hualamphong Railway Station and made the short walk (15 minutes) to Chinatown.

It’s easy to find the main road, Yaowarat–just look for the large gate marking the beginning of the area.

One of Chinatown’s main attractions is Wat Traimit, which is a short walk from the gate (I took the shot of the gate from the top of Traimit). It was on the right hand side of the road as I was walking down Yaowarat.

I wasn’t sure how much time I was going to spend browsing around the area, so I decided to visit the temple on the way back, if I had time.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have all that much time to spend in Chinatown, with its many shops, side streets and vendors’ stalls. It was extremely busy and crowded with shoppers and tourists, and walking was quite slow, although it’s probably faster than driving. Motor bikes would probably be the fastest way of traveling through the dense mass of traffic.

It’s a very popular place to buy gold, gems and other jewelry, but it appeared that, in the short time I spent there, you could buy just about anything you might be looking for. Here are a few items that caught my attention.

Traditional clothing.

Tassels

Fruit and vegetables.

Stuffed crab, anyone? Chinatown is renowned for it’s nighttime outdoor eating venues. Unfortunately, by nightfall I’d be on the train to Nong Khai. The next time I’m in Bangkok, I definitely want to visit this area at night.

Oh, and did I hear you say that you need a barber’s chair?

So, just about anything you need or want, you can probably find it here.

Yes, I did return to Wat Traimit and took the tour of the temple area. This post is getting rather long, so I’ll save the wat for next time. More later.

Buddhist Lent and Merit Making

Today marks the beginning of the 3-month long Buddhist Lent period, known as Khao Pansa (or Phansa or Vassa). It occurs at the start of the rainy season, and it’s the time when Buddhist monks return to their home monasteries, there to remain for the remainder of Lent. It’s also a time when ordinary folks increase their spirtual activities and, perhaps, give up some of their luxuries (smoking, drinking, meat) for the period, much like the Christian Lent period. Click here and here for a couple of web sites that talk about this in more depth.

I talked to Nai last night, and he and his family were busy preparing an elaborate meal to serve today to the monks at the wat near his house. I was present several years back during this time, and below are a couple of photos from then.

Here’s the meal, with Nai and some friends who helped serve it.

Guess who got to wash the dishes afterwards?

This is merit making, doing good deeds, not because it’ll gain you spiritual favor, but because it’s the right thing to do. Another way of merit-making is to release animals, like birds, fish or turtles, that have been captured. Many of the animals can be purchased near the temples (a bit of a racket, it you ask me) and then released at the temple or elsewhere. While I was in Laos this summer, Nai made merit this way in the hopes that his fatally ill (according to Lao and Thai doctors) mother would gain favor. First, he purchased a couple of small turtles at one of the markets, then bought some birds at Wat Si Muang, where he prayed for about 10 minutes with one of the monks. Then we went to the Mekong, where he released the birds and the turtles.

Here are a few shots of the various statuary at Wat Si Muang.





Nai also told me that the local villagers have been warned that a repeat of the flooding of 2008 is once again a possibility. Many people blame it on the upstream dams built by the Chinese, but there’s certainly been a huge amount of rain in China that’s contributing to high water levels. Let’s hope they don’t get higher. More later.

Jasan Park

To continue, somewhat belatedly, from my prior post, I was at the top of the hill where Jasan Park is situated, near Odong Island. Here’s a view of one of Yeosu’s residential areas. Notice the odd-looking structure, the white building, in the upper left.

Yeosu_From_Jasan_Park1

Here’s a cropped, zoomed-in shot.

Thumb_Church1

I’d seen this building before, but I’d never gotten close enough to find out what it’s function might be. Is it a convention center or a post-modern art gallery? We’ll find out later, because I was determined to walk to it.

In the meantime, I walked to the other side of the park, which overlooks the construction site of the new bridge from Dolson Island to this section of Yeosu.

New_Dolsan_Bridge1

It should be an impressive addition to the Yeosu transportation system when it’s finished in time for Expo 2012.

Continuing down from the bridge overlook, I stumbled across this small (one building) temple near the bottom of the hill. Below is a shot of the building and a few close-ups of some details.

Jasan_Temple1

Jasan_Temple2

Jasan_Temple3

Jasan_Temple4

If I thought that Hyangiram had a sea motif, I would probably say that this small out-of-the-way temple has a tiger guardian theme.

I’ve got a lot more to post about this walk of a few weekends past, but there’s too much to put into one entry, so I’ll spread the whole thing over several posts. Stay tuned for the New Dolsan Bridge, Hamel Light, Jongpo Ocean Park and the Mystery Building.

P.S. Weather today in Yeosu–2 inches of rain, according to the Korean Meteorological website, with just as much forecast for tomorrow.

Hyangiram Fire

In addition to the collapse of the mosque in Meknes, Morocco, there was a disaster at another house of worship with which I’m familiar. Luckily, there were no injuries in this particular misfortune, an unfortunate fire at Hyangiram in Yeosu. I’ve posted before about Hyangiram Temple. It’s one of the locations where I went on a university-associated field trip last November. Though the fire occurred back in December, I didn’t find out about it until recently, when one of my students made mention of the fact. I was skeptical, but I asked around, and sure enough, several of the structures, including the main temple, burned to the ground. Here’s a photo of the inside of the main temple I took last March.
Hyangiram_Buddha1
This shot is of the golden-roofed temple. I can’t say for sure if these areas were destroyed, but I suspect they were.
Hyangiram_Golden_Temple
And a few more shots.
Hyangiram_Lanterns2jpg
Hyangiram_Temple3
I was told that the reconstruction of the buildings will take about two years. Hopefully, the effort will be finished in time for the 2012 Expo. The temple itself is not all that spectacular; here, it’s the view, and it is magnificent.

Hyangiram_Harbor
Hyangiram_View1

For Wat It’s Worth

Here are a few more photos of my recent trip to Laos. These are shots taken of a couple of wats–Buddhist temples. I did an early morning walkaround one day while we stayed in Vientiane. Nai was still asleep, and I forgot to ask him later the name of the wat pictured below. I think it’s Wat Sithan Neua. It’s a few blocks up from Fa Ngum Road, downstream of the Inter City Hotel. Anyway, it was a beautiful, clear morning, quite pleasant for just strolling aimlessly. Here’s a shot from outside the temple grounds.

Vientiane_Wat1

Here’s some detail of the wall of the main entrance. I’m fascinated by the murals in Buddhist temples, both here in Korea and in Laos and Thailand. This one appears to show some highlights from the Buddha’s life.

Vientiane_Wat4

This is one of the entrances into the temple grounds.

Vientiane_Wat2

Later that same day, we went to Wat Si Muang to ask for blessings from one of the monks. On the temple grounds are a few vendors who sell incense, candles, flowers and wooden cages of small birds (sparrows?) which will be released later. One of the vendors sells long lengths of candles that are used to measure the length from your outstretched arm to your chest and the length around your head. The thin, flexible candles are folded at these lengths. Later, when the monk gives the blessing, he burns these candles. Nai, I and another unknown Lao fellow were blessed by a young monk. As we sat on the floor in front of him, the monk took a spool of string and wrapped it around the three of us and chanted for about five minutes, asking for Buddha’s blessing. Afterwards, Nai burned the incense and laid the flowers at an outdoor altar, where he also released the birds, about 6 of them in all. I’m sure they were happy to get out of the cramped cage and regain their freedom. I wonder how many of them are caught again. All in all, it’s a very peaceful, spiritual ceremony.

Inside the main temple, in an alcove beyond where we received the monk’s blessing, there is this jade (emerald?) buddha. It’s another area where people pray and offer incense and flowers. There were no worshippers in here at the time, so I took the opportunity to snap this shot.

Vientiane_Wat3

That’ll do it for my Laos photos. The cold weather in this neck of the woods is supposed to lessen next week, so hopefully I’ll get off my lazy, but warm, duff and get some shots of Yeosu. More later.

Buddhist temple murals

I’ve been going back through some of my newer and not-so-new photos of Yeosu that I haven’t posted to the blog or in the Photo Gallery, so I’m going to put them up here over the course of the next several posts.

These first ones are a couple of shots of murals at the Hyangiram Temple that we visited a few weekends ago. I just love the colors and detail in all Buddhist temple murals, and I’ve posted a few before, some from Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok and a few from the wat near Nai’s house. Both of the links will take you to the Photo Gallery.

The first one features ocean-blue and -green colors, while the second is done in warmer oranges and reds. Both of the murals have an ocean motif, not surprising considering the temple’s proximity to the ocean. One of the Korean tour guides that were hired for the field trip told us that most Korean Buddhist monks and nuns were forced out of the cities and into the mountains in the late 14th century with the arrival of Confucianism to the peninusula. This wikipedia article goes into more detail about the banishment.

Hyangiram_Mural1

As always, click on the image to get a larger version.

Hyangiram_Mural2

Stay tuned for more photos in the upcoming few weeks.