Sunday, August 1, 2010

Asia and its Objects

So... finding a internet connection in small town Asia was hard. Finding an internet connection that was actually strong enough to upload any kind of pictures was close to impossible, so this is why I have been absent for a while but I intend to pick right up where I left off!

Traveling through Asia was such an amazing experience! I experienced culture shock (big time), sat on warm sunny beaches, thought I was going to pass out from heat exhaustion as well as saw some of the most beautiful countrysides I've ever seen. Needless to say, there is much to talk about.

One of my main goals of this trip - aside from the fact that this was my honeymoon - was to encounter each experience as a maker and to see everything as having the possibility of informing my work. There was no shortage! I experienced makers at every turn! I actually felt like I got a lot more out of this trip than some because I understand what it takes to make things, and I can tell when I see something that has been handmade. The main tourist attractions in Asia are temples, museums, markets and communities of local people. Each of these have something in common, OBJECTS! Therefore my favorite experiences involved both the historical and contemporary objects I encountered during my trip.

Another goal for me during this trip was to try to define what "developing" actually means visually. Aside from the smog, lack of recycling programs, unusual restroom practices and incredibly low prices, my favorite discovery in each city was the still very common use of hand techniques, as well as some very interesting modified hand tools. Mechanization hasn't really hit small town Asia as we know it in the US, so I was delighted to encounter hand made objects everywhere, at times I couldn't keep track of all the techniques I recognized. It was exciting! So, starting where I left off, let's head to Wat Pho, one of the biggest temples in Bangkok.

Wat means temple, so everywhere we went in Thailand, we went to some Wats. They all started to look the same from the outside, but the insides all had their own handmade components.

Carving is hand technique I saw everywhere. Whether it was in wood or stone, I saw carving as a method to exaggerate ornamentation (therefore status) on objects and architecture. Most of the carved pieces I saw in Thailand date from long ago, but while I was in Bali I saw men carving wooden doors on the side of the road, so I know it still happens.

detail of that sweet belt buckle

These are royal stupas, or chedis as they are called in Thailand, which are burial markers that hold the relics. It would have been a great honor to be buried in a temple - to be closer to Buddha - and the right to be buried in this temple was reserved for royalty.

Each one of these stupas is decorated with thousands of tiny mosaic ceramic bits. Some of them are huge and can be seen from across town!

Okay, lets talk Buddhas. They are everywhere! Golden Buddhas can be found at most temples in Thailand, and for the most part they are cast bronze that are then gold leafed. I did encounter a few Buddhas whose leaving was flaking off, probably because of the heat and humidity. I wonder whose job it is to re-gold-leaf? It looks like they have gotten pretty good at it.

This colossal Buddha figure is called the Reclining Buddha and it was gigantic! I couldn't imagine having to gold leaf this bad boy.

The feet (as well as the eyes) of the Reclining Buddha are inlaid. The imagery on the feet are inlaid with mother of pearl showing the 108 lakshanas, or marks and signs on the body as well as the gestures of a true Buddha.

Wat Pho is also the location of the first university in Bangkok and now houses the center for traditional Thai massage. I got the best massage I received in Thailand here. Thai massage is different than a sweedish massage in that they use mostly pressure and you are fully clothed when receiving the massage. I got the one hour with herbs which involved no oils at all, but halfway through my lady started pressing a boiling hot sack of herbs into my skin. It was awesome.

I loved these anatomy charts that I encountered on the way out. Considering this has been a center for understanding the body for a long time, it makes sense they are here. Whatever was written on those markers in different sections of the body has long since disappeared though.

We took this wonderful boat tour down the canal and I loved it mostly because there were 6 and 8 foot water monitors swimming around looking for dead things floating (we saw a few fine examples) but also because it was a nice example of a different way that people live in Asia. One of the ladies on our tour asked about the poor people that live here, to which our guide replied that the people who live here are actually considered very rich because they own these homes and that is considered very well off. Pretty cool way to look at it I think.

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