February 27, 2006

Around Luang Prabang

The night market was so fabulous I went three times. In the warm yellow glow of a lightbulb hanging above each stall was a feast for my eyes but a leaky faucet for my wallet. It aroused the materialism within me that I have been pretending didn't exist. I didn't do so badly though, and my bartering skills are definitely improving, but it took amazing self control to not buy the entire market. Fabrics shone in deep earth tones, highlighted with some golden strands. Woven fisherman's pants (the traveller's most comfortable garment) in every colour combination. Paper lanterns and umbrellas lighting up the walkways. Delicately embroidered pillow cases, bed spreads and handbags. Nancy, I saw the exact little-people ones you bought!

Kwang Xi Waterfall is made up of tiers of light, white-green pools. The walk up to the falls across wooden bridges, through twisted trees and vines, on dirt floors covered with red and purple flowers, was paradise. Each layer was only revealed a few at a time until at last the rushing water fell from so high in even more sections. Had a quick swim in the cool water. Then woke up at 4am with things moving in my stomach. Not sure if it was food or drink, but got to create a waterfall for myself... am feeling much better now!

Had a side trip over to Pak Ou to see the Tham Ting. It is advertised on all the waterbottles, an cave within the side of a high cliff. The black opening begins with a white staircase and wall. Within are over 4000 buddhas that have been placed there by worshippers. Large and small, dull and shiny, heads without bodies and bodies without heads, it's a buddha audience overlooking the Mekong River. P

February 24, 2006

Luang Prabang

Three straight days of travel to get where I am, in the middle of northern Laos. One day by minivan to the border town of Chang Khong and two full days on a long uncomfortable "slow boat" ride down the Mekong. The seats made from 2 narrow planks of wood and the boat so full some people sat on their packs or lay on the metal roof above. It was slightly degrading, an over-packed boat of sweaty tourists. The other option were the speed boats zooming by, doing the same trip in only one day. Those passengers wore helmets, either to protect their ears from the screaming engine or their heads in the likely event of flipping. Perhaps our boat wasn't so bad!

During the many hours of having absolutely nothing to do and no desire to try and speak over the loud engine, I remembered the recent words from the monk, "Keep your body and mind together, always in the present moment." Instead of wishing for the future (to get off the damn boat), my thoughts focused on nature's images before me and I condured several strings of descriptive lines for each tiny event. In total concentration, I ended up in the most relaxed state I can remember myself being for a long time.

Patches of bright sand dotted with planted clumps of greens. The edge a dune spilling strings like sand timers into pointed mounds below. Contrasting the steep highlighted ridges of horizontal shadows...

Fat, healthy cows, submerged in the river or lying on the bank. No movement except ears twitching, flicking off flies. Goats roamed the steep hills in white, black and beige...

Women wearing red sarongs walking in one's or two's. Carrying filled baskets on bamboo across their shoulders. Seemingly nowhere, far from any village...

Children rowed dug-out long boats and bathed by slanted, layered, rocks. Tiny silhouettes holding inner tubes watching us from the beach...

Men standing in boats, or waist-high in the water. Throwing white nets into hollow, momental forms. Organizing wood to build a new boat...

The distance highlighted with wirey, white trunks. Glowing against the dark jungle's interior. Stalks of bamboo in circular patches, arched outwards and upwards, softened with foliage. Thousands of species, vines and trees, entangled together in a connecting leaf canopy...

Yellow leaves sprinkle in the wind. Falling and flickering like families of butterflies. Some rocks were purple, like moss only on the West side. More colours stand out, new shapes approaching. I could go on forever describing this land. P

February 20, 2006

Chiang Mai

Had a quick taste of old town Chiang Mai which is surrounded by a huge moat and the remainders of a brick wall. Then off on an adventurous jungle trek high in the mountains where hill tribe people live and elephants roam wild... uh, they did hype it up just a tad. Although it did make for a fun getaway in fresh air and greenery. Walked through a few rice paddies, sat below freezing (but very refreshing) waterfalls and said "sawadi-ka" to the locals picking tamarin in the trees. Laughed at our guide who was on a mission to find ant nests. He threatened we were having ant soup for dinner, which we didn't, and was actually a little disappointing! The slow elephant ride got exciting when the one behind us butted infront and gave a huge elephant-roar. Trunks were flying and sides bumping, it was quite chaotic. Our well-mannered monster stayed well behind and even opted out of the bath it's very aged skin needed. We did get wet though on the bamboo raft down the river. I don't think it was ever more than a foot deep, but we all got soaked! Jumping from one to the other, crashing into a rock and getting splashed by all the locals visiting the water on their Sunday afternoon.

One free day in the city and I ran around to all the "must see" temples. Chatted with a few monks in orange and saffron in the truck ride up to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. Many of them seem to come from Laos to study Buddhism in Thailand. Returning to the temple with their new purchase, a used tv. But I thought monks don't own anything? "As long as it's used for the right reason." Followed by "Things are changing." The one with a cell phone, asked to take my photo with him which peaked some tourist to lecture me about not associating with monks that way "especially as a woman". Ya, like I'm trying to pick up a monk!

Heading to Wat Suan Dok for the 1-on-1 monk chat, I looked forward to some real insight about Buddhist beliefs. He's (I'll keep the name anonymous) 24 and spoke carefully and patiently, smiling and squinting his eyes genuinely as I imagine the Dali Lama would. Every morning at 6am the monks walk around the temples with an apple, accepting food from people. They only eat what they are given and even though monks are vegetarian, they will eat meat if it is offered to them. A very pleasant chat which unexpectedly ended with "Would you mind if I travelled with you when you're in Laos?" My outburst of disbelief was reponded to with "When I leave, I won't be a monk for a month." ?#$%^&!!! So after presumably being hit on by 2 monks in 1 day, made me a little bit skeptical about this whole monkism idea. I'm sure many are legit, but like our tour guides and drivers, many will leave by their 20's. But you just have to laugh, right? P

February 14, 2006

Phitsanulok & Sukhothai

Had a stop over in Phitsanulok to see the most beautiful Buddha in Thailand. It was gold all over and the mirrored things around it made the whole interior sparkle. Patterned black and white columns lined the sides with people covering the floor praying between them. The monk with a microphone seemed to enjoy spraying me with water thrown from a handful of incense sticks. I really wanted a photo of the monk seated in between a long row of seated Buddha statues, talking on his cell phone!

Mon, my first female rickshaw driver wrote my name in Thai, it looks pretty cool. I love Thai characters, I think it is the most beautiful written language. Oooo, I like Japanese caligraphy too, but Thai has these little circles and curves that look amazing when hand written. So after the most beautiful Buddha, I went to the old capital of Thailand, Sukhothai "Dawn of Happiness". This is where the Thai alphabet originated, derived from India. There is massive World Heritage site about 800 years old. The park is filled with wats (temples) and shrines with Buddhas sitting, reclining, standing and walking all over the place. A couple have some Hindu and Khmer influence which is interesting. Met Danny from Guelph of all places and admired the ruins while talking about his adventurous trekking in China, Tibet and getting some good advice for Laos. When the sun began to lower, an orange glow enhanced the colour in the bricks so I made a lot of use of the "autumn" setting on my camera! And I had forgotten about that black and white option, also put to good use today. Way too many photos and only one speedy sketch. P

February 11, 2006

Bangkok

Had a brief, familiar stopover in Singapore and flew again the next day to Bangkok. Excited to have another window seat, I saw absolutely nothing except blue above the clouds and gray below them. The pollution was so thick, there was a purple-gray horizon line hidding everything underneath. As we descended I realized I had just left the cleanest air in the world and was now going to be enveloped in one of the smogiest. The landscape was divided percisely into long, gray rectangles of farmland that went as far as the eye (or the smog would let you) see.

Bangkok reminds me so much of Bali! The intricate, dark wood carving on the wall, the pots of plants lining each river and house, and the streams of motorcyclists.

The city is absolutely gigantic. My 2 new Estonian friends and I walked up to the river, got on a packed boat ride along the river, had a tuk tuk driver that took us to unknown temples where his friends will give him free fuel coupons, bus 47 to National Stadium where the ticket taker made us get off but we actually should have stayed on which took another half hour to figure out, and then bus 15 to finally see the Grand Palace a far walk in the distance. Total: 3.5 hours. Crazy!

The Palace is a colourful maze of temples and and tall spirals that point into the sky and from the huge white wall on the outside, looks like a candy land. It contains the Emerald Buddah who I thought I had missed as we left but he just happens to have a gold coat on in the winter! Gold and mirrors and detailed murals and coloured mosiacs of flowers and patterns and painted tiles... left me bedazzled for the rest of the day. P

February 08, 2006

Christchurch

Christchurch was a very green city with a river running through it, a massive park to the left and possibly the best art gallery in NZ. I would have loved to stay longer to see more of it, but my time was up in this little country.

However the flight was amazing and had the most number of spectacular views I've ever witnessed! I had no idea I was about to step onto an 11 hour flight (I knew I was flying haha, but predicted 7 hours). Before we flew into the white cloud that rained onto the city, there were rectangular patches of all colours. The rest was white and then ocean until the approach onto the coastline of Australia. It must have been just south of Sydney somewhere. We ended up flying diagonally across the entire continent, over Alice Springs and then to Derby in the West which I never saw on land. The ground transformed several times into weird and interesting arrangements. The familiar red-oranges covered everything with the occasional gray water hole and streams of greens. Possibly a salt field in ameoba shaped blobs. And the brilliant white clouds dotting the surface, several hundreds of metres above it all. Casting dark blue-gray shadows back down onto the land. And above the clouds were us, in the air where it is always perfectly blue because nothing is above us, abstructing the view. These layers of patterns and objects just need to be painted.

That's not all! On the edge of northern Australia, a cloud streamed rain onto the coastline and a thick, colourful rainbow arched the phenomenon. Passing over one of the Indonesian islands, a huge, black volcano with a deep sandy interior, poked high above the clouds surrounding it. I didn't realize ocean could be so calm as to reflect a cloud's image like a mirror. Passing more islands, large and small, blobs and triangles. Separated sometimes by a river, sometimes by miles. Parts of the edges submerged under water, but still visible through the clearness. I could peice them all together like a puzzle, thinking about how many years of earthquakes and eruptions it took to separate them this way. WOW. P

February 06, 2006

February 05, 2006

Otago Peninsula

Took a bus out to Portobello where Rob and I rented a couple bikes with a refreshing start to the morning with some cool rain. Thankfully it didn't last too long and even though the cool wind made it hard riding up the many hills, it was perfect conditions for the albatross. At the head of the peninsula, huge, white birds with a wing span of about 3 metres soared high above our heads. Using the push of the wind, they didn't even have to move their wings, but just tilted sideways or vertically, gliding in huge circles above our heads. They moved around as elegant as kites. And so high up, the size of them still evident.

Further down the road, made a visit to the Penguin Reserve. My main purpose to visit Dunedin was to find a quiet spot on the beach, letting the penguins wobble up towards me, getting a close up personal view of their actions and drawing them all day. But like other occasions, my imaginings are not allowed to come true. The few places the penguins do wander up to are protected by reserves and the only way to see them is to pay a guide. And on the tour, there is limited time at each nest, as the group is pushed along to the next site. However, with only a minute to sketch here and there along the trail, we did get as close as 5 metres to the world's most endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin. Only about 4500 exist along the south-east coast of NZ, Stuart, Auckland and Campbell Islands. Mostly the chicks were around as the adults were out fishing. But there was one hiding in the grass with the distinct yellow head poking out of the grass. They are even cuter in real life! Their wings point out in odd directions as they bend over to clean their feathers, or poke their head up to see who is coming, or turn their head sideways to seemingly talk to the penguin next door. This species is a little odd, as they are much more independent and do not hang around in huge colonies as the others do. One day I have to go to Antartica to see that!

The rest of the ride was a little rushed as we lost time pushing the bike up the steep gravel roads. Saw views of a couple harbours, but would need another day to see NZ's only castle, do the hikes and see the volcanic formations. Again, for next time! P

February 04, 2006

Dunedin

Checked out the Dunedin Public Art Gallery to see a display of yet more things Japanese... Miyabi, a collection of woodblock prints of samuri portraits, ladies in kimonos and landscape scenes. It's just all so amazing I'd love to live in one of those prints. To be among the most amazing colour pallets, have delicate flowers falling from above, several intricate patterns all around, contrasted with the solid black graphic shapes that make it so pleasing. This feeling of a magical world is what I want in my paintings and live in while creating them.

It was a long trip to get here, but in one day we saw a lone penguin (from a distance), huge sea lions on the beach, seals swimming way at the bottom of the steep cliffs and dolphins swimming amongst people willing to stand the freezing water. A lot of aqua water, sunny sun and spectacular landscapes which made my day. P

February 01, 2006

New Zealand Sketches


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Originally uploaded by Art Journey.

Here is a photo to click on to get to the others on flickr. BAAAAAAAAHHHH...