Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Significance of Chiang Mai

Like every place name I'm not familiar with the language of, Chiang Mai represents two words in Thai. As of today, I don't know what they are.

But what does Chiang Mai mean to me personally?


Thailand is roughly equidistant from Europe, North America and Australia & New Zealand, the three continents I have the closest connections to, which means I get the best of all those cultures, because the people coming to Thailand generally don't tend to be racist. They tend to be curious and open-minded instead, and the warmth and hospitality of the Thai means that they're not on guard, and it's easy to befriend them. I also look forward to meeting more people from Africa and Latin America!

But that's just the tourists - it's easy to find an affinity with the Thais, and I've made some good friends and met plenty of colourful characters amongst the locals... and the best part is, the more I get to know them, the more I like them.

Colour, kitsch and clutter.

Great-tasting food almost all the time.

Warm weather and an opportunity to cool down with a fan, or a drink (not doing a lot of the latter at the moment, though, as my throat is recovering from being sore).

Financial freedom.

Greater mobility.

And so much more... this post feels unfinished (as so many of them do)...

Saturday, 23 July 2011

All Over The Place

Every speck on the globe, every stance I can occupy, presents its own potential for the deepest and best Epiphanie I will ever have.

Itäs quite lovely to be torn between Asia and Europe... to be in one is to long for another. I can not be in two places at the same time, so my sense of conflict is never resolved.

There is a third player, North America, which twinkles at me insistently across the ocean, all shiny and alluring. The thing about [the USA in particular] is that it follows me around wherever I go due to the media I consume and the cultures I explore. To be in the USA is to have the absence of another superpower constantly making itself heard through the national noise level. It is to be self-absorbed, for better or worse. When I am in the USA, I become to think this inward-looking-ness is entirey justified, but when I leave I realise that I have missed the rest of the world and the emphasis it places on the rest of the world.

Would I live in the USA? Maybe someday, I'll return to northern California and smile and be smiled at in that distinct NorCal way, and feel like the luckiest person alive...

But right now I feel like the luckiest person through my engagement with Asia...

In a few days I will be flying to Hong Kong, a sort of interim place where I can obtain a Thai visa, remember the tastes, feels and vibes of one speck of Asia, as I prepare to fly to another.

For an indefinite amount of time, I will be residing mostly in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I consider it my new 'home of sorts', a semi-permanent base which I can walk away from any time, but I have many reasons to return to - over and over again.

I have been saddened by the attacks on Norway yesterday, and am in a sort of mourning... I will bring you more insights into the new chapter in my life when I feel more composed, soon.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Oh Mao God

The first piece of art you´ll see in the Fundacio Suñol, a private collection of art a few buildings up from Casa Mila in Barcelona, is a giant pop art rendering of Mao Tze Dong. An Andy Warhol original, Mao looks like a drag queen who loved rose-coloured blush so much that she put it all over her face, blue eyeshadow (over red eyes) and ruby lipstick. On one side of the cheek, the artist has painted yellow and orange, enhancing the warm colours against the two-toned blue in the picture.

According to an article CNN just ran, China is not ápproaching´superpower status anymore, but already possesses it. This leaves me with very mixed emotions: there´s an awful lot of people whose living standards are being raised, year by year, decade by decade. They say that there are such huge differences between teh generations in China due to the extremely rapid changes that have takien place already. I want to see people be more empowered economically and otherwise... but not at the expense of political stagnation, corruption and repression.

China being a superpower means that it can do whatever it wants, or something very similar. And until enough people want the regime to change, it won´t. Totalitarian leaders don´t just give up power - like the Arab Spring, they have to be ousted from it by a public hungry for democracy. When will that happen in China? Can I be hopeful that it will happen soon? Might it not happen at all? ANything is possible, and nobody knows anything. Keep a watch, my friends...

It´s important that we keep confronting ourselves with visions of China, because this is only the beginning: Chinese culture is going to be very significant in the future. I am strongly considering learning Mandarin during my stay in Asia. Because that´s what I´ll be doing after this trip is over: I´m going to fly over to Thailand and settle in Chiang Mai for as long as my visa allows, then continue to fly in and out of the nation, perhaps settling briefly in other nations such as Taiwan, China, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam... perhaps even Mongolia. It´s time to make myself even more free than I currently am, and to increase my learning curve. I´m sure that at times it will be discomforting, very challenging and unkind, and there will be many times when I wish to give up... but this is my dream. I´m going to figure out how to publish my work or find another method of monetising it, while living in Thailand & Asia! 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Barcelona, all of a sudden!

Life is wonderfully bizarre, is it not? One day you´re wondering what sort of culinary delights will reveal themselves if only you poke around a bit further up the neigbourhood than you´re used to (Midsommarkransen, Stockholm), and two days later you´re taking an impromptu whirwind tour of Barcelona, waving your camera from the top of a double decker bus at the playful and/or illustrious buildings that tickle your imagination.

The persistent, only ever tentatively lifted quiet of Stockholm has been exploded; now I am inundated with loud sounds... but I´m not complaining. It´s a beautiful thing to change your surroundings. I am now beter abl to appreciate Sweden for what is was/is, while sampling a entirely new cultural palate... and (only slightly) longing for Chiang Mai.

What do Sweden and Spain have in common? They both have legalised same-sex marriage, and have a higher than usual amount of women in parliament.

My next destination is Figueres, the hometown of Salvador Dali, where a huge museum dedicated to him awaits... I seriously LOVE Dali; it is my ambition to see all of his art available in the world, one day. Meanwhile, I´m having a day of pure, unadulterated laziness in Hotel Barceló, which is close to the ocean...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Swirling Around Arlanda

As far as being stuck in airports goes, Arlanda, north of Stockholm, would be high on my list. In fact, the only definite winner over it would be Singapore's Changi Airport. Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi is also worth a mention - for some reason I always buy a book while I'm there. Last time it was (I am only slightly embarassed to admit) 'Why Men Love Bitches'. (I don't like the word bitches myself and avoid it, but I happen to be overly nice sometimes, so I thought it might be able to help.)

I found out at around lunchtime today that I would be flying tomorrow. I believe the phrase 'didn't bat an eyelid' applied to me during this moment. I'm so used to changing where I am that it just seemed like a fairly conventional thing to do to compeletely make over my holiday, alter the flavours, adbuct the existing smells and overpower the nose with the pungent aroma of something entirely different.

Tomorrow I'll be in Barcelona... who knows, maybe it's time to soak up some sunshine in one of the Spanish islands... I donät really feel like museums or cultural attractions at the moment... I feel the urge to relax, to let go like I havenät done for ages... maybe... Corsica... or somewhere 'exotic' like that. Yes, my definition of exotic is probably different to yours.

Iäm quite proud of myself for manouvering outside my comfort zone every day while grappling with gastritis. Perhaps I should have stayed at home. I know that I am coming for Thailand, permanently, soon, and this extended stay abroad feels like too much of a tax on my parents' resources... but I went. I couldn't help myself. If someone offers me a ticket to Europe, I'm not going to say no. These opportunities are best not wasted. So, even though I am suffering in part, I am also reminded every day how stimulating and even relaxing this experience is.

My second experience with Sweden started in the train station of Malmo, across the water from Copenhagen, and I fell in love with it again. The train, lulling from side to side with each turn, took us through Lund and some other Swedish cities, offering me some idea of what the rest of Sweden might look like. I found myself asking why every summer house (or hermit's abode, perhaps?) I saw was the same shade of dark red, but Iäm yet to find an answer to that question. Because an answer is what I'll no doubt get. But why not a question in return, eh cosmos?

I had a brief chat with a mixed race Swedish and Costa Rican girl who drew on her eyebrows and worked at the 'Happy India' restaurang at Mariatorget. I was almost given the "Indian version" of the butter chicken curry I ordered because apparently most Swedes donät know this dish by name. The girl asked me if there were a lot of Indian restaurants in Australia, and I guess they are. Or maybe I just know Indian food better than most casual appreciators of the cuisine.

I'll say this for Sweden: Everyone who lives there seems to love it. Except that academic who was hanging out across the border at Helsingor. The dude thought the lack of socialisation in Helsingborg was stupid, but that this habit didnät extend to Stockholm, a city he liked spending time in. He was pleased with the more right-wing swing of Swedish politics of late. I suppose the wedish welfare system isnät going to have an easy time in this day and age.

Back to my tangent: "Sweden has always been welcoming of people in conflicted countries," supplied my waitress. Swedes have many things to take pride in - and they do. It's tough not to cheer them on, but no nation is perfect either: a conformist streak can get in the way of my appreciation, and the taciturn affect, while not as difficult to perturb as I initially suspected, does dull the vibrancy, even as it naturally bubbles up. I feel free to be myself in Sweden, as a sexual woman. I know that people won't think badly of me if I express desire. Not that there is much to express - I remain aloof from romantic or sexual interest in others. But sometimes even the way I carry myself can be interpreted as sexually open. I am a very strange individual - I pose as a very liberated sexual character, whereas in reality I shy away from much in the way of flirtation.

I can tell this is going to be a long night (waiting for my early morning flight)... but at least I have the internet to keep me happy. :o)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

It could have been the neighbourhood;

If you've been to Europe, you know the kind of neighbourhood I mean: Where almost everyone is an immigrant, usually from the Middle East or Africa. Iäm not saying it doesnät have itäs own particular charms, but I found the Brussels version more depressing.
Things were better in Norrebro, I thought, reminiscing about Denmarkäs immigrant ghetto and itäs vibrancy. Here, everyone looked glum, if not despondent.
The weather wasnät doing much for me either: perpetually on the brink of rain, thankfully it never came.
Finally, one of the aspects of the attractions I was mainly there for has decided to make itself unavailable. "How can they dismantle my right to view Miro right on the date I arrive?"
I decided I had had enough and hopped onto the first northbound Eurolines bus to Copenhagen.

As expected, my experience improved with the geographical change. I had my mental workings rearranged, blown, reassembled and rearranged again by Louisiana Modern Art Museum's extraordinary exhibition on architecture, which explored everything from fusion to postmodernism to communal living spaces, to Roma built culture... there was so much to sink in that I didnät have time to do it all. But 7 hours was enough to seriously blow my mind, and the next time I took the train northwards again (the Museum is outside the city) it was to go even further north, to Helsingor.


I should probably mention that I did see the worthwhile Magritte Museum while I was in Brussels. A milder version of mindblowing (letäs call it mindboggling), there was something very formal and classic about this artistäs surrealism. The subject was always in teh centre of the frame, which confirmed my impression that surrealism is very much a worshipping of realism, through the lens of maximum distortion. Some of the same conventions remain.

Magritte had a wide range of amusing, provokative and endearing ideas, which I enjoyed perusing. Perhaps my favourite works of his were from his cubist period - he could easily have been a master of the genre if heäd stayed with it.

It was all rather good preparation for the Lousiana Museum, especially the buildings which remained bathed in darkness and the faint illumination of a streetlamp although the daylight roared above their roofs.


Iäm now in Stockholm, and tomorrow Iäll be in Madrid.

I managed to explore a bit more of Sodermalm, excite the local immigrants (I like your style! breathed an Eastern European-looking soul at me in Slussen), breathe some beautiful air, eat some tasty dishes, read some Zadie Smith, and comtemplate how long the clock that is counting down to a major global financial collapse will keep ticking (as a way of keeping up with the news, courtesy of BBC World and Hotell Västberga).

Iäm a little lonely in Stockholm: The last thing somebody said to me, not brought about due to an exchange of goods and/or services, was 'The machine tried to fool me. But I fooled it.' - this was a guy who had delivered a dull but pointed kick at teh vending machine in the metro. I giggled.

I continue to be impressed with Sweden's commitment to gender and sexuality -progressive attitudes. The magazine Situation advertises its latest edition with a series of images: one of them is a female body-builder wearing a skimpy green bikini, and another is a young boy (perhaps an early teen) wearing make-up and dressed in female clothing. The image is endearing: he's not smiling, but looks happy with himself, admiring his dark pink eyeshadow and lipstick. Itäs a beautiful image.