Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Thai cooking and Traveling to Chiang Khong

Well we started this day off right with a traditional Thai cooking class. I love Thai food and taking this class was fun! We got to go to a local market and see the food we would be using in our recipes. We learned how to buy it in the market, what it looks like, as well as see how its sold. I'm not sure if there are any Thai markets in Chicago, but I'll try to stick to exactly how I was taught. My new favorite food/spices = galangal, lemongrass & Thai chilies...

After the cooking class we packed up into the van and headed from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong which is in north east Thailand and is a very common place to cross into Laos, which is what we did. On our way there we stopped at Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple. The temple is well known mostly because it is white and very few temples are white, but also because it is a contemporary temple, where it only began construction in 1997.

I got the feeling that there was something very controversial about this temple because neither our tour leader or Thai guide really wanted to talk to much about it, they just wanted us to see it. Thankfully there was a catalog, so I was able to get a lot more information about it.

Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat is a visual artist who has decided to build this temple and make the construction of this temple his life's work. In his catalog he explains how he doesn't accept money from the government so he can keep creative control on any decision about the design of the building and the art included in it. Kositpipat is somewhat of an anomaly in Thailand in that when he was a student at Silpakorn University, he was the only student in his program who sought to make contemporary Thai art. Since most students chose to follow the path of making either traditional Thai art or go the European artistic route, Kositpipat is unique in that he is defining Contemporary Thai Art. Kositpipat's decision to make this temple his life's work to showcase Contemporary Thai Art is somewhat controversial and I'm not sure he is really being acclaimed for it yet. The Thai people seem somewhat cautious of what he is doing. He has 60 followers who are artists that have committed to make work for the temple, also claiming to give everything they can to make the temple their life's work. You gotta respect that kind of commitment to a project. I also think this is why it is so controversial, because the imagery showcased at this temple is modeled from historic Buddhist icons, but doesn't follow the exact path every other temple does...change makes people nervous.

What was most striking about the temple (and really what made me want to figure out more about it) was one of the recently finished paintings on the inside of the main structure. We weren't allowed to take photos inside, so this image comes from the catalog. Inside the rather traditional looking spirit mouth are paintings of very contemporary images. These images included the iconic image of the attack of the twin towers on 9/11, superheros like Superman, Spiderman, Neo from the matrix as well as Avatar characters, and then spaceships, aliens, luxury goods, a gas pump and many things "western." There were even details that were more hidden like a ghost images of semi-automatic weapons within the spirit's face and portraits of both Osama Bin Laden and George Bush in the spirit's eyes. Honestly, at this point I was a little nervous...what exactly is this painting trying to get across? Am I in trouble here? Thank goodness for the catalog, apparently these questions have been asked a lot, so the artist addressed them specifically. Kositpipat said of his painting:

"I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who craved to build weapons that kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough...Peaceful people do not want to see the murder of the Muslims and the collapse of the New York Twin Towers. I wanted to show that eyes, as important organs, should look at each other with kindness and not with hate that can lead to war. I painted, at that time, to caution both George Bush and Bin Laden so that they can look toward a peaceful and happy world. I painted Superman and Ultraman to let people know that there is really no heroes in our world. Actually people need heroes since our mortality declines every day. However, no heroes from the movie screen arrive to help the havoc of the Twin Towers...When people walk out, they will feel that they leave the demon behind that is they have rid themselves from evil spirits and going towards "lokutharadhamma" (the highest level of dhamma, where people will not be reborn)."

As part of his commitment to put everything into his project, he is actually there almost everyday. When we were there he was being filmed (not sure what for, it was all in Thai), so while we were waiting for an incredible rain storm to pass, nerdy me, I went and got his autograph.

That's him. The one in the front.

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