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Kasma’s 30-year Anniversary Message

Kasma Loha-unchit, Monday, May 25th, 2015

This June marks the end of 30 years that I have taught Thai cooking classes in my kitchen. Up until six months ago, I was entertaining thoughts about throwing a big anniversary celebration (much like the 20th anniversary party many of you attended), but thoughts of the stresses and strains of planning, preparing for and cleaning up after such a big bash have more than changed my mind. I would like to, however, send a big thank you to all of you who have enthusiastically taken my classes over the past three decades for all the support and the wonderful times shared cooking delicious meals in my kitchen.

In about a week, I will be turning 65 and joining the ranks of Medicare. Over the past few months, I have been seriously mulling over when I would retire, especially when I see that many of my friends (and many of you) have retired and are enjoying the newfound time to pursue myriad interests awaiting them. As much as I enjoy teaching and taking people traveling around Thailand, and I know I will miss doing these things and all of you when I retire, the prospect of not having to run around to shop for classes, to push myself in the tedious and never-ending tasks of cleaning up before and after classes, and to deal with problematic students and trip members (and there have been more than a few each year) who drain me both physically and emotionally, makes retirement more and more appealing every day.

At this point, I am thinking that I will retire possibly within the next five years. So, those of you who have friends or co-workers interested in taking my cooking classes should let them know very soon. I will probably retire from beginning classes in two to three years. For those of you who wish to take all my advanced classes, I will try to cycle you through most of them before I retire. It’s possible I may add one last series (Advanced J) before I retire to give you some of my mother’s treasured recipes so that they are forever preserved for posterity. There’s no need to bury any secrets.

As for the Thailand travel trips, I will probably retire from doing them in five years or possibly sooner if Sun, my trusted helper and driver of my van, decides to quit to pursue other interests and there is a strong possibility that this can happen any time. I do not wish to train anyone new to replace him. So, if you have ever entertained thoughts of joining one of my off-the-beaten-path trips in which you will see, taste and experience things you will never have the chance to do traveling on your own, do start planning now as I will not always be around.

All said, I am actually sad to be writing this message, but I would like you to know the approximate time frame so that you can take advantage of what’s left of what I have to offer over the next few years. There’s no one I can train to take my place as what I do I learned over a lifetime of experience starting when I was five years old in my mother’s kitchen.

Thank you again to all of you for all the good times nourishing one another and sharing a sliver of your lives in my home.

Kasma


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, May 2015

Doi Suthep – A Personal View

Michael Babcock, Friday, February 20th, 2015

Doi Suthep Scene

Monks at Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai is the most important temple in northern Thailand. This blog is a slideshow of images I took when visiting in January 2015. Temples in Thailand can consist of many buildings inside a compound (the wat). There is nearly always a stupa (called chedi in Thai) and a building with the main Buddha image.

The main feature of Doi Suthep is a large chedi in an inner courtyard; a sala around the courtyard contains temple murals and many Buddha statues. In-between the chedi and the sala is an area with many “chapels.” One of the customs at Doi Suthep (indeed, at many temples) is to walk around the main chedi 3 times in a clockwise direction. Outside the chedi area are many more statues and various buildings.

I love photographing temples in Thailand. Everywhere you look there are arresting visual images and details that are easy to overlook if you focus on seeing just the main attractions. Doi Suthep is particularly rich in photogenic features. I’ve been there many times and each time it is varied and different. This photo essay represents this year only.

Since one picture is allegedly worth 1,000 words, here is my “29,000 word” blog, each picture accompanied by a minimum of words to provide context.

You may want to walk through the photos by clicking on each image so that you can have time to read the accompanying text. Give time for the slides to load. Please enjoy.

Doi Suthep Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

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Doi Suthep is on a hill; this is the first Buddha image you see as you arrive at the base of the hill.

Passing shops, you come to the base of the stairs, where these Lisu girls wait to be photographed (for a fee). The Naga (mythical dragon) protects the stairs.

Being photographed can be boring work.

The lower staircase has some interesting details, such as this crocodile.

Another detail at the bottom of the stairs.

The stairs to the temple, with over 300 steps; a tram is available.

One of two giants who guard the top of the staircase.

The main chedi against a cloudy sky.

A Buddha in the inner courtyard surrounding the chedi, with murals on the wall in back.

Another Buddha statue: the inner courtyard is lined with different Buddhas and murals.

One of the temple murals.

A mural of the Buddha's Enlightenment as witnessed by the Earth Mother Goddess.

Close-up of the Earth Mother Goddess.

The roofs of one of the buildings on the compound.

The main chedi is surrounded by many chapels, such as this one.

Monks with the "9th pre-requisite" - a digital camera.

Many people, including monks, walk around the main chedi 3 times (once for the Buddha, once for the Dhamma and once for the Sangha).

The author of this blog. Photo by his wife, Kasma.

This statue is found in the area outside the main chedi area.

A statue of the Earth Mother Goddess in the area outside the main chedi area.

A view from outside the main chedi.

Two young Thai dancers in the area leading to the main chedi - there are usually entertainers there.

Close-up of one of the Thai dancers.

A guardian statue at a staircase outside the main chedi.

Solicitation for tips at a coffee shop at the top of the stairs.

Fried food for sale at the bottom of the staircase on the way out; that area is lined with shops.

Fried quail eggs at the bottom of the stairs. Delicious!

A photograph of Chao Dararasmi, Princess Consort of the Fifth Reign, one of many old photographs at the bottom of the stairs off the road.

Chao Dararasmi and her niece, a photo at the bottom of the stairs off the road.

We'll end with the first image.

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Written & Photographed by Michael Babcock, February 2015

 

Wat Phumin in Nan – The Murals

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Perhaps the most famous temple murals in Thailand are at Wat Phumin in Nan in the North. This is a quick look at the history and at some of the enticing scenes that can be found there, taken on our visit to Nan in January of 2014.

The temple murals were one of the features of Northern Thailand temples that most intrigued me when we visited there this past January. Most temples had murals and some of them were quite fascinating (as were the murals at Wat Phumin).

(Click images to see larger version.)

Mural #1

The artist & his lady

Much of the information in this blog comes from the book Reading Thai Murals by David K. Wyatt; copyright 2004 and published by Silkworm Books in Chiang Mai. (Reading Thai Murals, Amazon) Rather than being comprehensive (you can read Wyatt for that), I’m going to quickly go over some of the history and then include a slideshow of images that caught my eye as I wandered around the interior of the temple (for quite some time).

Seen here, to the left, is, perhaps, the most famous of all the images from Wat Phumin. Anyone who has visited Nan has seen it on any number of souvenirs, t-shirts and posters. Local tradition has it that this image shows the artist, Thit Buaphan, himself with a female companion.

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Wat Phumin exterior

Wat Phumin #2

Wat Phumin exterior

The main building at Wat Phumin is both the “ubosot” (ordination hall) and the “viharn” (meeting hall). (At some temples these will be two separate buildings.) It’s in the shape of a cross (cruciform) built on the back of two giant nagas (the naga is a mythical serpent, much like a water dragon). The main entrance is guarded by two “singh” (mythical lions).

Buddha Image

Main Buddha image

In the center of the building there is a 4-sided Buddha statue, with a Buddha facing in each of the 4 directions (towards the doors). The statue is in a posture known as “Subduing Mara” or “Calling Earth to Witness” and represents the Buddha at the moment of his enlightenment. At that moment, Mara mocks Buddha and asks how he can claim to be enlightened, who is there to witness his enlightenment? The Buddha takes one hand and points to the earth, indicating that the Earth Mother Goddess will bear witness.

Murals

A wall of murals

Really, though, the main attraction in this temple is provided by the murals. The picture to the right shows how entire walls are completely covered with murals. These murals were painted beginning in 1894 by a Thai Lue artist named Thit Buaphan, who was well known for painting the murals at Wat Nong Bua (also in Nan Province). He had many assistants and the work continued into the 20th century.

The main story represented here is a story of one of the Buddha’s past lives – one of the so-called Jâtaka stories. There are roughly 550 “official” stories and, in addition, another 50 or so stories about previous lives that are included in a collection called the Paññâsajâtaka, known mainly in Burma, Northern Thailand & Laos.

Mural #2

Mural of the main story

At the time the murals were painted, Nan was a separate kingdom that was a vassal-state to the Kingdom of Siam. In 1893, Siam made Nan give half of its kingdom to the French to become part of French Indochina, in order to appease the French. One of the reasons that Thailand was never colonized was because, on several occasions, they made gestures such as this to appease the western powers. Obviously, this move was not popular in Nan.

The main story depicted at Wat Phumin is a story that (according to David Wyatt) is found in just a few manuscripts and most likely only published in Laos. Wyatt knows of no other temple where this story is portrayed. The story concerns an orphan, Gaddhana, who went searching for his absent father (said to be the god Indra, disguised at an Elephant). As Wyatt says (on page 21):

. . .The theme of orphanhood thus is repeated, acted out in the panels of the mural at Wat Phumin, though the orphanhood is the condition of lacking a father and not lacking a mother.

The message that viewers were reading off the walls was from a cautionary tale of persistence through adversity, in a world suffused with evil in which virtue was rewarded eventually.

Mural #3

Woman weaving

Wyatt says the story was chosen as a subtle criticism of Siam’s actions in giving Nan’s land away, chosen because more overt criticism was impossible.

Along with another Jâtaka story on the walls, and interwoven as part of the stories, we see the portrayal of ordinary, day-to-day life in the late 19th century; it is these depictions that set the murals apart and account for their fame. Amongst numerous individuals in the midst of daily activities, we also see representations of Europeans, hill tribe people, animals and lovers, both heterosexual and transgender. It is a marvelous celebration of life.

Slideshow – Murals at Wat Phumin in Nan

Rather than point out slides and themes, I’m going to insert below a slideshow of some of the wonderful images that you can see at Wat Phumin. Where I’m able, I will point out what is being portrayed (often relying on David Wyatt); otherwise, I’ll let the slide speak for itself.

Rather than setting the slideshow to run by itself, you may want to simply click on each picture to see the next image, so that you can go as slowly as you might like to enjoy the images.

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Mural #1
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According to local tradition, the rightmost figure is the artist, Thit Buaphan

Gaddhana asking his mother who was his father

Gaddhana and his mother. The 2 boys above are playing a game

Close-up of Gaddhana and his mother

Transgender couple

Women going to market

Men & women flirting

Woman at spinning wheel and an aggressive musician

Mural showing a woman weaving

Hilltribe people with a dog barking at them

Elephant and soldiers

The Buddha and disciples

The artist, Thit Buaphan, and his lady companion

Europeans at a dock

According to Wyatt, a Nan monk

"Helping seek the Lord Buddha" (Wyatt)

Serpents; perhaps a depiction of the Buddhist hell realm

Europeans unloading a ship with (apparently) 4 London bobbies

Close-up of Europeans unloading a ship

"People entering a city" (caption says)

"Escalator" picture; caption says they are on their way to heaven

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Written by Michael Babcock, July 2014

Wat Nantaram in Chiang Kham

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Wat Nantaram – วัดนันตาราม – is a quite beautiful Tai Yai (Shan-style) temple in Chiang Kham, which is in Phayao province, Thailand. Thailand has so many temples that at times you can get “temple fatigue;” then you come across one such as Wat Nantaram and all fatigue is forgotten.

Windy Road

The road to Chiang Kham

View

A view along the road

We drove to Chiang Kham from Nan up twisty, windy roads (such as the one to the left) through the hills and mountains. Although it is only 400 or so meters above sea level, it seemed higher. We stopped many times to enjoy beautiful views such as the one above right.

Note: There is a slideshow of all of the images at the bottom of the blog.

Entryway

Entryway to Wat Nantaram

Deva

Celestial being on a pillar

(Click images to see larger version.)

We arrived about mid-day and, after having lunch right next door, we approached the temple compound on foot. Through the gate was a long driveway lined with pillars topped by statues of celestial beings. We lingered a while to take some pictures of these statues.

To the left of the driveway there were a number of Sai trees, popularly known in the U.S. an the cannonball tree, with their lovely blossoms. These trees are often found on temple grounds, for the Buddha was born under a Sai tree, which lowered one of its branches to help support his mother.

The Exterior of the Viharn

Temple Front

Wat Nantaram viharn

Temple Door

The entryway to the viharn

When I first saw the main building, the viharn (sermon hall), it literally took my breath away. It’s a golden teak wood temple in Burmese (Shan) style, with the distinctive roof architecture. It was built in 1925.

In the picture upper left you can see that two singh (mythical lions) flank the entryway as protectors while two (presumably celestial) beings wai (clasp hands in the front) in greeting.

Celestial Greeter

Celestial greeter

Roofs

Some roofs of the temple

It took us awhile to even enter the viharn. First, the two lovely greeters called out for our attention. Then there were the interlocking roofs to admire along with the lovely juxtaposition of the carved wooden scrollwork on the various roofs with the decorated wooden shutters on the windows.

Temple Front

Close-up of the front

Entry Detail

Further detail at the front

We took some time to admire the lovely details of the front, some of which are shown above.

Inside the Viharn

Temple Interior #1

Inside the viharn

Temple Interior #2

Another view of the interior

I found the interior of the viharn to be immensely calm – a sacred space. Dark and somewhat mysterious, there is a feeling of quiet devotion here, of goodness, of peace. There are golden pillars, decorated ceilings and varnished, dark wood floors. The room compels silence and reflection.

Buddha Statue

The main Buddha image

Buddha Statue

Close-up of the Buddha statue

The main Buddha image is very appealing. It portrays a younger Buddha with a luminous smile. (Do click on the image to the right to see a larger version.)

Buddha Statue #2

Another of the Buddha images

Statue Close-up

A close-up of the second Buddha

On the left side of the main Buddha image are two Burmese-style Buddha statues. For some reason the Burmese-style Buddhas are often (always?) white. The statue is resting on a lotus blossom and, like the middle image, has a radiant smile.

2 Buddhas

The statues from the side

Buddha Statue #3

Another Buddha statue

In temples I like to walk around the entire area and look at the statues from all angles.

The picture on the left shows the two Buddha statues mentioned above as photographed from the side.

On the right is another one of the Buddha statues, this one found to the right of the central Buddha statue (as you face the altar).

Temple Ceiling #1

Part of the ceiling

Temple Ceiling #2

Detail of the ceiling

At any temple in Thailand it pays to look everywhere, even at the ceiling. The ceiling at Wat Nantaram is quite elaborate, as these two pictures of separate details show.

Other Buildings at Wat Nantaram

Other Buildings

Other building on the temple grounds

Building Interior

Inside one of the other buildings

We spent quite a bit of time inside the main building (viharn) before exploring the rest of the temple grounds. Above left are two of the other buildings. The picture to the right shows the interior of one of the more interesting remaining buildings.

The altar here has a distinctly Chinese character. It shows three representations of Quanyin, the Goddess of Compassion. In the middle (see picture above right) is a statue of Quanyin in her guise as Avalokiteshvara, a many-armed Bodhisattva personifying perfect compassion and who refrains from entering the bliss of Buddhahood in order to help all beings attain enlightenment. The two flanking statues in back, looking very Chinese, are also representations of Quanyin showing her holding a vase with the dew of compassion.

Many-armed Statue

Close-up of the center statue

Wood Carven

Close-up of a wooden carving

On the left is a close-up of the center statue, Quanyin as Avalokiteshvara with her many arms.

To the right is a close-up of the wooden carvings that surround the room.

This temple is definitely worth a special trip from Nan when you are in the region.


Slideshow of Wat Nantaram

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Windy Road
View
Entryway
Deva
Flower
Temple Front
Temple Door
Celestial Greeter
Roofs
Temple Front
Entry Detail
Temple Interior #1
Temple Interior #2
Buddha Statue
Buddha Statue
Buddha Statue #2
Statue Close-up
2 Buddhas
Buddha Statue #3
Temple Ceiling #1
Temple Ceiling #2
Other Buildings
Building Interior
Many-armed Statue
Quanyin
Wood Carven

The road to Chiang Kham from Nan is quite windy!

One of many beautiful views on the road from Nan to Chiang Kham

The gate and entry to Wat Nantaram

The entryway is lined with celestial beings on posts

Blossom of a Sai tree, which the Buddha was born under

The viharn at Wat Nantaram

Close-up of the entry door to the viharn at Wat Nantaram

A pair of celestial beings greet you as you enter

The Shan-style roofs of the temple

A close-up of the entryway to Wat Nantaram

Further detail of the front of Wat Nantaram

Inside the viharn at Wat Nantaram

Another view of Inside the viharn at Wat Nantaram

The main Buddha image and altar at the viharn of Wat Nantaram

A close-up of the main Buddha image at the viharn

A Buddha statue to the left of the altar

Close up of the second Buddha image

The two Buddha statues from the side

This Buddha statue was to the right of the altar

The ceiling of the temple is elaborately decorated

This is a detail of part of the ceiling

Two other buildings on the temple grounds

Inside one of the other temple buildings at Wat Nantaram

This many-armed statue is Quanyin in her guise of Avalokiteshvara

One of the flanking statues of Quanyin

A close up of one of the wood carvings that surrounds the room

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For further exploration:


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2014

A Buddha in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Michael Babcock, Monday, July 1st, 2013

On our trips to Thailand there are many temples that we visit year after year; one of these is Wat Mahatat in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Over the years I’ve come to especially love one Buddha statue there and have photographed it frequently.

The full name of the temple is Wat Phra Mahatat Woramahawihaan, sometimes abbreviated to Wat Phra Boromathat. It is found a couple kilometers from the town center on Thanon Ratchadamnoen, the long street that runs the length of the town, and is easily reached by songthaew.

Statue 2004

The statue in 2004

This first picture shows the statue as I saw it in 2004. It shows a beautiful, stone statue that has weathered over the years. The cheeks have been gold-leafed by worshippers and the statue is dressed in a plain orange robe such as a simple monk in Thailand would wear.

(Click images to see larger version.)

The statue is one of many found in the Thap Kaset Congregation Hall, also knows as “The Gallery at the Foot of the Buddha’s Relics.” It’s a wihaan (or viharn) or meeting room found to the left of the main chedi – there’s a blue sign with an arrow pointing to it. Once you enter there’s a quadrangle with two levels of Buddha statues. It’s a quiet, peaceful place.

There’s something about this particular Buddha statue that attracted me from the beginning. According to my understanding, and verified by The symbolism,iconography and meanings behind the Buddha Image, this position of the statue represents:

Statue 2006

The statue in 2006

Absence of fear – either one or both arms are shown bent at the elbow and the wrist, with the palm facing outwards and the fingers pointing upwards. It shows the Buddha either displaying fearlessness in the face of adversity, or encouraging others to do so. The right hand raised is also referred to as “calming animals” and both hands raised are also called “forbidding the relatives”.

The next picture (to the right) from 2006 shows the statue substantially unchanged except that it’s now wearing a fancier robe – obvious when you click on the image to bring up a larger version of the picture.

I loved the simple rock statue, the weathered face with the gold leaf; it gave a peacefulness and the sense of aging to the statue, a hint that with the passing years, one can attain wisdom. It seemed to be an echo of the Buddhist teaching that everything arises and passes. As the statue slowly aged, it seemed to echo the fact that “everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.”

Statue 2007

The statue in 2007

I like this picture to the left from 2007 because it shows the Buddha statue without the orange robes: you can see how the body has been gold-leafed by worshippers over the years. You can see how the gold leaf on the face has weathered.

So it came as a bit of a surprise, and not a pleasant one, when in 2011 I arrived to find that the statue had been painted over in gold and black. Instead of an beautiful, aging statue the image now appeared to me to be new and garish, almost like a person who can’t accept that they are growing older and is doing everything in their power to stay young.

Staute 2001

The statue in 2011

The change in the Buddha ended up being a useful teaching for me. This periodic painting of beautiful old statues is not new for me in Thailand. It first happened at a temple in Chaiya many years ago. I should not have been surprised. Things age quickly in Thailand and there are often efforts to make things look new again.

On reflection, it turns out to exemplify the fact that “everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.” In this case, my beautiful “old” statue ceased: it arose as a painted “new” statue.

The Buddhist text called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Setting in Motion the Wheel of Dhamma) purports to be the first teaching of the Buddha after attaining enlightenment. From the Sutta:

As this exposition was proceeding, the spotless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma appeared to the Venerable Kondanna and he knew: “Everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.”

Staute 2013

The statue in 2013

These are the last two lines of the teaching:

Then the Blessed One made the utterance, “Truly, Kondanna has understood, Kondanna has understood!”

Thus it was that the Venerable Kondanna got the name Annakondanna: Kondanna Who Understands.”

It appears as if Kondanna became enlightened by realizing the truth that “Everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease” – not just as an intellectual concept but as an absolute knowing that informed the way he approached the world.

If we look carefully, at this picture from 2013, two years later (click on the picture to see a larger version), we can see small indications that the gold paint is already starting to age. It will be interesting to continue my yearly visits and to see how the statue continues to change, continues to age, continues to exhibit the nature of all conditioned things: arising, abiding for awhile, and then ceasing.


I previously blogged on this temple:


Written by Michael Babcock, April 2013

Wat That Noi in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Wat That Noi (วัดธาตุน้อย) is a temple found in the south of Thailand in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. It was the residence of Portan Klai (1876-1970), said to be one of the most famous guru monks of his generation. The temple includes a wax-reproduction of him as well as his mortal remains. (See Portan Klai (1876-1970) of Wat That Noi was one of the most famous guru monks in Nakhon Si Thammarat (NST) one generation ago. (See Wayne’s Dhamma Blog.)

Reclining Buddha

Recining Buddha at Wat That Noi

The most famous temple in Nakhon Si Thammarat is, of course, Wat Mahatat, found in the town itself. Kasma and I visited Wat That Noi on a recent visit and it is worth a stop. It is found to the west of the town of Nakhon Si Thammarat on Highway 4015. Here’s a map of its location and more photos. One of its more prominent features is the large reclining Buddha shown to the left.

(Click image to see larger version.)

At Thai temples I love to wander around and look at the details, from the nagas on the staircases to the bas-relief of the walls. I’m including a slide show of some of the interesting features I found at this slightly off-the-beaten-track temple.


Wat That Noi Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

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Reclining Buddha
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Nagas (dragons) on a staircase at Wat That Noi

Reclining Buddha at Wat That Noi in Nakhon Si Thammart Province

Detail of the reclining Buddha

Another view of the reclining Buddha

Wax reproduction of Portan Klai, a famous abbot

Buddha statue at Wat That Noi

Buddha head on statue at Wat That Noi

Another dragon at Wat That Noi

Buddha bas-relief

Another bas-relief at Wat That Noi

Elephant, detail of bas-relief

Concrete decoration on wall

Bas-relief sculpture at Wat That Noii

Monk drying clothes at Wat That Noi

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Reclining Buddha thumbnail
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Written by Michael Babcock, May 2012