Friday, March 22, 2013

National Museum BAN CHIANG

Gallery 3: Archaeological Work In Ban Chiang Display
Last week my wife and I finally got to tour the National Museum BAN CHIANG in Ban Chiang which is located east of our home in Udonthani. The museum is the centerpiece of the Ban Chiang World Heritage site.

The National Museum BAN CHIANG is a compound consisting of three buildings situated in a fenced in park like setting.  The museum first opened to the public in 1981.  In 2006 renovation of the museum were started with the museum reopening to the public in 2010.

Visitors to the museum first go to the HRH Princess Sri Nagarindra, the Princess Mother Building.  This building is where you pay entrance fees to the museum.  There is also a small snack bar, souvenir shop, and an auditorium.  The museum is open everyday except for Mondays from 9:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M.  The cost for Thai people is 30 Baht ($1.00) and 150 Baht ($5.00 USD) for foreigners.

The second building, The Galyani Vadhana Building, houses 9 galleries on two levels.  The galleries are:

          Gallery 1:  His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Ban Chiang

Displays and photographs documenting the visit on March 20, 1972 of His Majesty King Bhumibol        Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirkit to the Ban Chiang excavation site.

2300 - 1800 Year Old Pot

          Gallery 2:  Archaeology In Ban Chiang

Exhibits related to Thai and foreign archaeological work in the area.

          Gallery 3:  Archaeological Work In Ban Chiang

One of my favorite galleries - it recreates the work environment during the 1974-1975 excavation by the University of Pennsylvania.

           Gallery 4:  Ban Chiang:  The Excavation Pits

Downstairs from the previous galleries, Gallery 4 is a reproduction of excavation pits.

          Gallery 5:  Artifacts from the Excavation at Wat Pho Sri Nai

Pottery, stone tools, iron tools, and  bronze ornaments from an excavation site 500 meters east of the museum.

Bronze Ornaments

          Gallery 6:  Prehistoric Culture of Ban Chiang

Several dioramas showing prehistoric pottery making, weaving, metal making, hunting, and farming in the ban Chiang area.

          Gallery 7:  Ban Chiang: Discovery of a Lost Bronze Age

Another of my favorite galleries which is adapted from a 1982 to 1986 international traveling exhibition organized by the University of Pennsylvania.

Human Bronze Age Remains

Evidence of Early Surgery

Long Before Coke, Pepsi - Humans Had Periodontal Disease

          Gallery 8:  Ban Chiang: A World Heritage Site

A gallery related to Ban Chiang's selection as UNESCO World Heritage Site Number 359.

          Gallery 9:  Distribution of Ban Chiang Culture Sites

Since 1972, 127 prehistoric sites associated with the Ban Chiang culture have been discovered in the Sakon Nakon basin here in Northeast Thailand.  This galley displays many artifacts from the various sites.

The third building of the museum houses a gallery that is related to the Tai Phuan people, a minority from Laos, that settled Ban Chiang 200 hundred years ago.  For some inexplicable reason, we did not visit the gallery or the nearby archaeological pit at Wat Pho Sri Nai.  Perhaps it was destiny - to reaffirm my desire and need to return in the future to photograph rice planting and rubber cultivation in the vicinity.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Coming Soon - 2013 Poi Sang Long

There are many festivals here in Southeast Asia.  The festivals occur year round so there always seems to be something interesting going on some where.

Four years ago we drove over to Maehongson (Mae Hong Son) to attend a local festival. "Poi Sang Long".

I wanted to return some year to witness the festival once again.  This year seemed like a good time to go back.

Poi Sang Long is a Shan religious festival where young boys are ordained as Novice Monks.  I had previously written blog entries about our previous visit to the festival.

The festival is held in Late March or Early April each year.  There are actually several festivals in the area with local Wats scheduling their celebration to suit their needs.  There are also Poi Sang Long Festivals held in Chiang Mai.

If you check the Internet you will not get specific dates for the festivals.

I had kept a Thai pamphlet regarding the Poi Sang Long Festival held at the neighboring Wats - Wat Jong Klang, and Wat Jong Kham.  I noticed that there were three phone numbers at the end of the pamphlet.  I asked Duang about them and she told me that they were phone numbers for the Monks.  Today she called the first number for me and the number was no longer in service.  However the second number was an active number for the head Monk.  From him, Duang determined that the festival for the two Wats will commence on April 2 around 14:00 with the cutting of the young boy's hair and shaving their heads.  This is not usually listed as the start of the festival but for me it is an integral part of the experience.  The three day festival will run until April 5th.

I had already done some research and discovered that it would cost $800 USD to fly round trip to Maehongson and once there we would have to rent a vehicle.  With that in mind, I had decided weeks ago that we would drive.  I had driven there on our last trip and for much less than $800 I can do it again.

This afternoon I made our reservations for our hotel in Pai and in Maehongson.  Pai is a good stopping point on our way to Maehongson and we have a cottage were we stayed on our last trip - Belle Villa Hotel $46 with breakfast.  We will be staying in Maehongson at the hotel that I have stayed at on all four of my previous four trips to the area - Imperial Tara Mae Hong Son Resort - $43 a night with breakfast.  Both are excellent facilities and definitely easy on the credit card.

The next few remaining days will be busy ensuring the truck and my photography gear is ready for the trip.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Road Less Traveled, A Path Often Not Taken

A Road Less Traveled - Somewhere Between Ban Chiang and Nong Han
A few months ago I had mentioned to my wife my wish to someday to get into our truck together and find some road out in the countryside to determine where it lead to.

Just as we often find ourselves in life, everyday tasks, the complacency of the familiar, and the preoccupation with prescribed daily activities prevented us from finding that road less traveled or path often not taken - until yesterday.

Recently an expat that I had met in Ban Chiang died.  His daughter in Europe tracked me down through the Internet, notified me of his passing and asked if I had any details.  Since I had only met him once I did not know that he had died let alone have any details of his death.  I did have an address for him.  He lived out near Ban Chiang.  Since I had intended to return to Ban Chiang to tour the Ban Chiang National Museum, I decided yesterday to go out to the museum and to incorporate a little investigating into the man's death.

Although I hardly knew the man, it seemed to me to be the right thing to do and to see if I could provide some closure, if not comfort, to his family.  Things are easier here in Thailand which some people would find very unsettling and disturbing.  My wife and I first went to the hospital in the town near where he lived.  We went to the hospital first because we did not find the police station before we found the hospital.  We went in and explained why we were there, the rough approximation of the week when he died and his name.  The staff did some checking and indicated that there was some information but we would have to wait a little bit because the person who could get the information was at lunch.  Duang and I watched a Muay Thai match on the television with the EMT who was on stand by.  Long ago in America there was "Friday Night Fights" on television.  Today in Thailand we have "Saturday Afternoon Muay Thai", a time when many televisions are intently viewed by thousands of Thais.  In about 15 minutes we were presented with what appeared to be the Thai equivalent of a "Death Certificate"

The document contained a great deal of information regarding the admission, treatment, and cause of death . Yes, it was personal information, very personal information.  I am sure that many Americans would be appalled with the release of such personal information and how easily that information was released.  However I was able that night to provide details to his family that they were needing.  In my opinion privacy does not exist - here or in America  In America there is a great deal of paperwork involved in "protecting" our privacy.  Just think of all the documents that you have to read and sign when you go to a new doctor, get admitted to the hospital, or encounter on Internet websites.  They are really not about protecting your privacy but deal more with what they can do with your personal information which you don't really have much choice in giving to them to obtain their services. Here in Thailand life is not as complicated by so much legal mumble jumble that provides little privacy.  Here in Thailand the use of private information is dictated more by a combination of good manners, common sense, and practicality.

The hospital document also contained the phone number of the Thai woman that the expat had been living with.  Duang called her twice without any success.  Despite not being able to  contact her we decided to drive out to her home.  A person at the hospital had made a map for us to follow to get to the house.  With map in hand we set out on the main road.  We followed the map and after awhile we came upon the familiar main road going to Ban Chiang - we were not lost because we knew exactly where we were, we just were not where we wanted to go.  Going with the flow we drove out to the Ban Chiang National Museum.  We had a wonderful time touring the museum.

A Home Out In The Middle of the Rice Paddies
After leaving Ban Chiang, Duang was able to contact the woman who gave us directions to her home.  Well it turned out that the way to her home was the road less traveled and the path often not taken.  From the main road we turned on to a dirt road.  We drove off into what at first seemed nothingness.  Because we had a final destination in mind, we pressed on, stopping occasionally to confirm with people that we encountered to confirm that we were going in the right direction.

What first appeared as nothingness became more and more interesting the further that we traveled along the deep red dirt road.  We encountered woodlots.  Wood lots are groves of fast growing poplar type trees that are harvested to make paper.  We also encountered groves where tree were being cultivated, not for their wood, fruits - but for their red ant eggs (kie moht daeng).  Weaver ants build their nests only in a certain tree; weaving the tree's leaves into nests in which they lay their eggs.

We passed fields of sugar cane and cassava which are quite common place here in Isaan.  Even further down the road we passed rubber tree groves.  I had walked and photographed a rubber plantation once in Malaysia and witnessed land being cleared in Laos for rubber trees, but this was the first time that I had seen them in Thailand.  In one plot the trees had been tapped to extract the latex bearing sap from the trees.  The tree's bark had been slashed about two feet above the ground. At the lowest end of the cuts, the white viscous fluid dripped into small shallow bowls.  This road less traveled was proving to be quite interesting after all.  Driving along this dusty red road was becoming quite a pleasant experience.

Continuing along this road, we finally encountered another traveler along this road less traveled - a motorbike  driver wearing a typical field hand hat complimented with a pakama wrapped around their face for some protection against the red clouds of dust.  I had stopped our truck to get out and photograph the homes situated in the middle of the rice paddies.  We are in our hot season now - hot and dry.  Last week there were three days with a high temperature for the day being 100F.  We have not had a substantial rain since October so the ground is parched and dusty.  The rice harvest was completed back in November leaving the paddies dotted in a grid of straw stubble.  In the area around this red road, as far as the eye could see, the straw stubble had been burned in man set fires.  The very few trees in the countryside were mainly bare - having dropped their leaves in reaction to both the heat and lack of water.  The land was barren and reminded me of New England in the Winter - without the snow.

Little House on the Paddy

We saw several homes amongst the barren fields. There were two basic types of houses in the area.  There were houses where people lived year around in and there were houses where people lived in only during the working times in the paddies - planting and harvesting.  Both types of homes in the area were more primitive than the homes that I am so familiar with in Tahsang Village.  The homes along the red less traveled road were most definitely more agrarian in nature as well as function.

By now I was convinced that this was a road that I will return to for although it is less traveled or perhaps because it is less traveled it is a road that is much more interesting than the roads that I am familiar with.  It is a road that presents more opportunities to experience and to document life here in Isaan.  Once again I am reminded of the ubiquitous saying here "Same Same but different".  My curiosity is piqued with the possibilities of experiencing rubber cultivation, red ant egg cultivation, as well as rice cultivation on a much larger scale.

We eventually arrived at our destination which was on this road less traveled.  We ended up learning more about the deceased man's life and met some very nice people.  I am not alone along the roads less traveled and the path often not taken that I have chosen to journey along.

Neighbors and Family Constructing A Pavilion Escape the Heat of the House
There are many expat men who have come to stay in Isaan. They are scattered throughout the area. These men have left their homelands and to a large extent their native cultures to begin anew in a foreign land.  In each their own way they have adapted and adopted aspects of the Isaan culture to create their own world here, far from their native lands.

Just as the roads less traveled and paths often not taken can often reveal interesting as well as rewarding possibilities along their route, life away from one's origins can also be rewarding and can always always be counted on to be interesting.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Rare Day

Dancers Make Final Adjustments Prior to Climbing On Stage

Yesterday was a rare day for my wife and me.  We attended one of my brother-in-law's Morlam Shows.  That in itself is not so rare in that we attend most of his shows.  This show was held during the day while most of his shows are held at night typically starting at 9:00 P.M..  This show being in the daytime did not make for our rare day.  We attended the entire show which is a rare occurrence for us.  We never stay for the entire show at night for two main reasons.

The first reason that we do not stay for the entire show at night is that the shows are 6 to 7 hours long!  The show does not end until 3:00 or 4:00 A.M.  It was not all that long ago that I would party in Brasil or Vietnam until 6:00 A.M. or 7:00 A.M. but I was not driving then either.  Here in Thailand you can run into unannounced night roadblocks where all drivers have to blow into a device for alcohol.  I do not want to complicate my stay here by getting a DUI either rightfully or wrongfully.  In my opinion it is easier and best to just avoid the entire situation.

The second reason that we never stay for an entire show is that we leave when the fights start.  For a night show the fights typically start about three hours into the show.

Yesterday was rare in that there were no fights.  The show was conducted on the grounds of a neighborhood Wat northwest of Udonthani.  The Wat was having its annual festival and my brother-in-law was hired to put on the official entertainment.  I use the term "official entertainment" because the entire event is entertaining at least to me.  With it being daylight and my decision to not drink, there was very little that went on that I did not observe - and it was all very entertaining,

The purpose of the festival is to raise money for the Wat and I also suspect for the people to have some fun. Perhaps even an effort to build or to maintain a sense of community for the villagers and other local communities.  The head Monk of the Wat spoke with the village Headman and the Headman collected 100 baht from each household to help pay for the Mohlam show. Mohlam?  Yes and it is also spelled as  Yes, that is a problem in Thailand of anglecizing Thai words; there are many different English spellings for the same Thai word.   Several different spellings for the same type of ethnic music is not all that big of deal if you are not obsessed with "proper" spelling.  However different spellings can be a serious problem and definite source of frustration in reading street signs and maps.

Inside the Bot, Villagers Offer A "Money Tree" to the Monks
We arrived at the Wat around 10:00 A.M.  A small group of people were marching around the Bot, worship hall, carrying "money trees". We all know that money does not grow on trees, perhaps it grows on a certain weed, but not on trees.  But in Thailand money is placed on trees as offerings to the Monks.  Typically the "tree" is a banana stalk that has holes poked into it. Pieces of split bamboo are stuck into the holes.  Each "branch" of split bamboo has a baht note in between the two pieces of the bamboo.  Sometimes a tree is fashioned out of rice straw.  Banknote offerings are placed on the trees and after a procession the festooned trees are brought to the Bot to be offered to the Monks as part of a merit making ritual.

Villager Offers Money Tree to Monk
Monks Performing Merit Making Ritual
The show started around 11:00 A.M.  I was pleased to see a familiar face, the khene player that I had photographed in Si That last month.  Since it was a day show, he had brought his wife and young daughter. The dancers that my brother-in-law had hired for the day were new people.  My brother-in-law lives on a small street in the center of Udonthani, a street populated by singers, dancers, and musicians.  When my brother-in-law has been booked for a show, he, sort of like in a pick up game of basketball, contacts the people that he knows to put the show together.  If they are unavailable, they most certainly know others who are available for the performance.  He contracts with specialty companies for the scaffolding, stage, sound system, and sometimes, the band.

The Khene Player Backstage
As always, I had access backstage of the show.  Backstage is far from glamorous.  Backstage is a series of woven reed mats placed upon the rough ground.  The performers apply their make-up, eat their provided meal, and change their costumes upon these mats amongst the the scaffolding bents that support the stage, lighting, and large speakers.  A large tarp is strung between scaffolding and other objects to restrict access to the area.  The roadies during the show rest in hammocks strong in or beneath the large truck that carries the gear.

The performers change their costumes underneath large pieces of cloth that they wrap around themselves.  As provocative as their dance movements, song lyrics, and dialogue on stage are, the performers are very modest.  At a vast majority of the shows, the dancers wear a beige leotard, pantyhose, and either panties or short shorts underneath their dance costumes.

Prior to the start of the show offerings are made to the spirits backstage.  Prior to climbing up to the stage for their first dance, the dancers kneel and offer their respect to the spirits.

Lead Female Performer Sings Backstage Prior to Her Grand Entrance
There is also another ritual to these shows that I find fascinating   For their first song of the show, the singer will sing the song hidden from the sight of the audience - sort of setting the stage for a grand entrance.  After completing about 3/4 of the song, the singer will climb the stairs up to the stage to the applause of the crowd.  It is all great theater and quite entertaining.

One of Many Policemen In Attendance Yesterday
Yesterday there was a large contingent of Police on hand along with a large "paddy wagon" conspicuously placed for everyone to see.  Surprisingly there were no fights for the entire day.  It was not because people were on their best behavior or that they were not drunk.  As always is the case at these shows, there was a great deal of drinking at the festival.  People were constantly drinking beer, whiskey and Lao Lao (moonshine type whiskey).  As the day wore on the people became more and more vocal as well as demonstrative of their good feelings for each other. here in Isaan it is common to see people hugging each other and trying to help each other walk as they get drunker and drunker. It is in these situations that the fights typically break out.

Besides the rare occurrence of watching the entire show and not witnessing any fights, yesterday also had a rare occurrence  it rained.  It actually rained for about two and one-half hours - very rare for March.  It was not a heavy rain.  It was more like a heavy drizzle.  It was enough to stop the live performance for one-half hour while people grabbed a pavilion from elsewhere on the Wat grounds and install it over the stage to shelter the performers and musicians.  The pause did not affect the audience in the least.  They kept dancing to the prerecorded music that was blared over the sound system.

One of the dangers at these events, is people throwing empty bottles during fights.  Yesterday there was a system in place to minimize that risk.  A man and his son spent the day wandering around collecting the empty bottles.  Well the boy spent the day collecting the bottles while his father split his time between collecting bottles, dancing, and emptying some bottles.

The boy was around 10 years old and rather rare for a Thai child - obese.  He resembled the television character "Pugsley Adams" form the 1960s series The Adams Family. I suspect that one reason that he is over weight is attributable to the way that he collects the bottles.  He gathers the bottles in a white plastic bag  and brings them to his father's somlaw (three wheeled motorcycle with attached wagon).  He would then inspect every bottle.  When he found a bottle that still had a little liquid in it, he carefully poured the contents into a large plastic cup.  He would then stir the contents of the cup with great gusto and gleefully drink his cocktail of beer, whiskey, and Lao Lao. He then would set about to find some more bottles, often dancing a little jig along his way.

Like all the shows that we attend, there were people of all ages there.  The children seem to especially enjoy these events.  They wander about eating ice cream, fruit, and other foods.  They also exert some independence by exploring the venue albeit still under the watchful eyes of their family. They make friends with other children and end up playing with balloons and other toys that are sold by vendors at the event.

As the afternoon wore on, the audience became more and more entertaining.  One man was dancing with his shirt off.  He used his shirt pretty much like a majorette uses a twirling baton - twirling it around in the air above his head, passing it from one hand to the other hand between his legs and the piece de resistance - throwing it high up into the air and catching it with one hand.  It was very entertaining for my wife and me.  I believe that it was very embarrassing for his family or friend.  Another man. not much more sober, attempted to remove the dancing majorette.  After about 10 minutes of struggling and stumbling, he finally succeeded in removing the dancing majorette.  Both of the men were not seen again.

This by no means ended the off stage entertainment.  The lady boys who had been drinking all day long along with their female friends were putting on quite a dancing demonstration.  By this time the onstage performance had reached a fevered pitch - one song after another song with no interruption   The go-go girls danced for at least an hour and one-half without interruption   Their pelvic thrusts along with the animated movements of the khene player only seemed to whip up energy and mania of the audience more.  It was truly amazing. The cool weather and moisture in the air did nothing to dampen anyone's spirits.  From our sheltered position underneath the head Monk's cabin, Duang and I had a great viewing vantage.

I did not drink any alcohol - not that I do every time that I go out or especially when I am not driving.  It just wasn't proper for me yesterday.  The head Monk and I had hit it off.  He brought me a container of soy milk for me to drink earlier in the day.  When it started to rain, he invited us to sit on his porch. Later he brought me a large bottle of orange Fanta to drink.  Still later, he brought me a large bottle of Coke, ice, and drinking water.  He was very friendly and I felt very bad that I could not understand most of what he was saying.  I kept trying to get Duang to translate but it was very difficult for her- logistically.  Monks are a higher status than other Buddhist people and are always to be at a higher level than the common people.  The Monk insisted that I sit next to him on the bench.  As a devout Buddhist, Duang could not bring herself to sit next to me to translate or to stand next to me. Sitting on the floor at our feet was not a very good option because of the sounds of the show made it very difficult for her to hear what we were saying.  It was also difficult for her to find a spot to sit on the floor because of the children that I had invited up to share the Coke with.  For many children, a soft drink is a rare treat.  No matter the case, we managed to show our appreciation and give thanks to the Monk for his kindness as well as to answer many of his questions.

The show concluded at 5:00 P.M. and after paying off his performers, my brother-in-law joined us for the trip back to Udonthani.

Although it had been a rare day in the sense of seeing an entire show without any fights on a rainy March day, our day had been no more interesting than any other day here in Isaan. Without a job now, our priorities remain the same everyday - to enjoy ourselves.


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