December 2012 Archives

Elephants, Bamboo Rafts, and Orchids

December 31: We spent New Years Eve Day in the Chiang Dao region, a mountainous area near Chiang Mai. We began with Elephant Training Camp, then floated on a bamboo raft down the river, then had lunch at the Orchid Farm.

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This was the elephant and riders just behind us. We presumably looked the same.

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The ride involves wading the river - very low in the dry season - part of the way.

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As befits a tropical jungle path, the vegetation was incredibly lush.

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After the ride, the elephants are fed bunches of bananas for positive reinforcement.

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They are then marched into the river ...

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... for cooling and cleansing.

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The elephants and their mahouts put on a show of hauling and stacking big logs, which was their main role in the past.

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Finally, one of the elephants - handed brushes dipped in appropriate colored paint - paints a picture of a tree with green grass and red leaves.

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We then boarded a bamboo raft for an hour's leisurely poled float down the river.

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This is how the scene looked from a suspension bridge as we were entering Elephant Training Camp.

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Grasses on the river bank.

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An old man, fishing with a net, waved and smiled.

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We had lunch at the Orchid Farm, and afterward wandered among rows of beautiful orchids in great variety.

Chiang Mai Night Market Artists

December 30 (an extra): After dinner we walked a few blocks from our hotel to Chiang Mai's famous Night Market. It's estimated to have about 2000 vendors. I snapped some photos of artists at work: not high art, but suitable for the scene.

Click photos to enlarge them.

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Sukhothai to Chiang Mai

December 30: Traveling north from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai, with various interesting stops in between. We started by returning to the Sukhothai Historical Park, to see some things missed yesterday.


A tilting tower


A chedi with elephants whose trunks have been restored


A statue of the Buddha apparently playing peek-a-boo ...


... which is an illusion from the spots on his eyelids. This is a giant statue: 80 meters high.


We then headed north, passing incredibly green rice fields with a farmer inspecting the crop.


Our next stop was the Wat Phradhat Lampang Luang (Wat means temple), one of the oldest and most important in the region. People were preparing for the new year, contributing small amounts of money to achieve their wishes.


Writing their wishes on a very long yellow cloth that will be wrapped around the tenple.


And marching three times around the central structure to symbolize the three central teachings of the Buddha.


We explored Lampang's Native Market, where - along with more common fare - one can find more varieties of rice than one dreamed existed, frogs found in the rice fields, grasshoppers and insect grubs,


and small live fish to be scooped from a tub.




We moved on up the road to an even more splendid temple in Lamphun, Wat Phra That Hariphunchai. The chedi had been regilded a couple of years ago.


People line up to light candles to burn their sins away.


Novice monks preparing the new year's decorations.

We finished the day by checking into our - very nice! - hotel in Chiang Mai, having a good Thai-Indian dinner nearby, and exploring the Night Market a few blocks away. More to come.


December 29: We left our Bangkok hotel at 5 AM for a 7 AM flight to Sukhothai, the ancient first capitol of Thailand.

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As we disembarked our Bangkok Airways turbojet and were waiting for our luggage, we saw this beautiful chedi (otherwise called stupa or pagoda) in the middle of a pond in back of the terminal. Then as we drove out, we saw fenced enclosures with zebras and giraffes - a zoo! It turns out that this is a private terminal, owned by Bangkok Airways, so it doesn't have to adhere to the sterile designs of most airports. A good start to our day.

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Our guide first took us to the Si Suchanalai Historical Park near the airport. This is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites near Sukhothai, all of them containing ruins of ancient Khmer (Hindu) monuments that were converted to Buddhist uses when the Khmer empire was overthrown. The mixture of the two civilizations, coupled with the decay with age, makes these sites very striking and often beautiful.

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We refreshed ourselves with a hot-off-the-fire rice cake.

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Climbing steep steps to the top of a hill, we found this large Buddha statue, robed by the local people.

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We drove about an hour to Sukhothai through some very attractive farm country. By now it was the middle of the day and quite hot, so we decided to have lunch and rest for a couple of hours, and visit the Sukhothai Historical Park (another UNESCO site) in the late afternoon when it was cooler and the light was better. There were many interesting images to be made of Buddha statues.

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The late afternoon sun gave great color and definition to the individual structures and clusters.

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This great bho tree was a sacred object in its own right.

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The reflections in the still water of the monuments, lit by warm late afternoon light, were magical.

Bangkok Vicinity, December 28

December 28: This morning we drove out of town, to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, about an hour from Bangkok.

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Slice a piece of fruit, hand it to a passing boat, collect a small bill.

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Read the paper while waiting for customers.

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The river gets crowded when the tourists arrive and the vendors come out to meet them.

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Cute little models of fruit vendors in their boats.

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Large pictures of the King (sometimes with the Queen, more often alone) are everywhere. We were told that these pictures are at least 15 years old. The King is now in his late 80s, and has been hospitalized for several years.


After the Floating Market we drove to Nakorn Pathom to see the Phra Pathom Chedi pagoda, supposedly the largest pagoda in Southeast Asia. I couldn't get a photo that adequately depicts how massive this structure is, but I did get one that shows how attractive it is.


A guardian of the pagoda.


A statue of the Buddha, seated on the coils of Naga (a cobra) and shielded from the rain by the cobra's hood.


Beggars' bowls were lined up near the pagoda, for visitors to fill with coins.

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In the afternoon we drove back to Bangkok and spent a few hours walking through Chinatown. A couple more images below.

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I was struck by this monk's outfit.

Bangkok, December 27

December 27, 2012. Our first day in Bangkok. We slept well after 20 hours of flying and getting to our hotel about 1 AM. We awoke refreshed and not tired, which was good because we had a busy day of sightseeing, featuring four of Bangkok's most picturesque sites: three temples and a palace.

Click on photos to enlarge them.

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Wat Traimit is probably most famous for the Golden Buddha: three meters high, five tons of pure gold.

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Seeking the monk's advice.

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A dance competition among schools, one of several we saw during the day.

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The Grand Palace is perhaps the most over-the-top decorated place we've ever seen, with palaces, spires, halls, and temples in profusion. Below are three more examples:

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Wat Pho is another temple complex, famous for its huge reclining Buddha.

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Worshipers at the base of the reclining Buddha.

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The Thai were not clear what Western people looked like, so they focused on the hats.

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Perpetual ongoing maintenance of the thousands of Buddha statues.

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Wat Benchamabophit is a relatively modern Thai temple, made of white Carrara marble and intended to mimic western cathedrals. The stained glass is an interesting variation

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and the interior looks both similar and different.

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Nevertheless, the stone lion

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and the red and gold tile roofs show clearly that this is a splendid Eastern temple.

Christmas Colors from Afghanistan

We're in Narita (Tokyo) airport, after a 12+ hour flight frrom MSP, about to board our plane to Bangcock (another approx. 7 hours). Since it's Dec 26 back home (albeit 2:30 AM CST), I'm taking the opportunity of posting as my daily offering a couple of photos that are reminiscent of holiday colors and that come from an Asian textile - from Afghanistan. Images from Thailand to come.


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Santa's Elves Hats?

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(click to enlarge) Formations at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico.

We'll be traveling in Thailand, Laos, and Burma for the next 3+ weeks. Internet connections are unpredictable, but I'll try to post about our journey when feasible.

Happy holidays and a good New Year!

Christmas Colors

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(click to enlarge) Green and red, from Jemez State Monument in New Mexico

Afternoon Sunlight

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(click to enlarge) Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico



(click to enlarge) Rusted manhole cover


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A couple of views from the reflecting surfaces of the windows on the Endless Bridge of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.


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Bushes in the Snow


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Leading Lines and Shadows


(click to enlarge) Bike racks next to Coffman Union at the University of Minnesota, photographed from the 5th floor of Nils Hasselmo Hall, next door.

San Francisco Shop Window

I don't recall whether this was in San Francisco's Chinatown proper, or in a nearby block. Wherever it was, it struck me as strange.

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Chinatown Windows (10)

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The last of the Chinatown Windows series. This one is different: not so much a multi-layered vision, more an homage to a famous photo by Walker Evans of a photography studio window.

A small Blurb book of the series is at

Chinatown Windows (9)

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Chinatown Windows (8)

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Chinatown Windows (7)

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Chinatown Windows (6)

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Chinatown Windows (5)

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Chinatown Windows (4)

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Chinatown Windows (3)

When I started this series a couple of days ago, I wrote that the windows of San Francisco's Chinatown reminded me of the layered paintings of "modern art" of a few decades ago. I've mulled this idea over, and come to some more specific connections:

* The often unlikely juxtaposition of objects reminds me of Surrealism.

* The overall coverage, the vivid colors, and the randomness of the image surface remind me of Abstract Expressionism.

* The somewhat arbitrary inclusion of ordinary objects in an image reminds me of Pop Art.

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Chinatown Windows (2)

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Chinatown Windows

A few weeks ago we were in San Francisco, where I spent some hours walking through Chinatown. I got interested in the vivid colors and multiple layers of objects and reflections in the shop windows, which reminded me of the layered paintings of "modern art" of a few decades ago. For the next week or so, I'll be posting photos from this mini-series.

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Filbert Street Steps

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From Wikipedia:

The Filbert Street Steps descend the east slope of Telegraph Hill along the line where Filbert Street would be if the hill weren't so steep. The steps run through a garden tended to and paid for by the residents of the "street", down to an eastern stub of Filbert Street and the walkway through the plaza to The Embarcadero. Many houses in this residential neighborhood are accessible only from the steps. As on paved streets, several fire hydrants and a solitary parking meter are located along the steps.

Filbert Street and 22nd Street in San Francisco are two of the steepest navigable streets in the Western Hemisphere, at a maximum gradient of 31.5% (17.5°).

Coit Tower

The San Francisco icon atop Telegraph Hill, with some nice light on the houses below.

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Christmas Tree

In Union Square, San Francisco

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Brad Pitt banner in Macy's across the street, (click to enlarge)

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San Francisco Advertising

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Things to do with a gray wall

In Portland, Oregon.


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Body Beautiful

After the past few days of vivid color, here's some stark black and white. From "The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece" show at the Portland Art Museum. Strongly focused lighting on the statues, in rooms with walls painted matte black.

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More Orange

Traffic safety barrels in Portland OR, in afternoon sun. (click to enlarge)


About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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