Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mister, what are you looking for?

Living in THE DREAM, where flux is ever present is wonderful, and also full of surprise. I should have known better than to show up at the Bangkok, Thailand, airport without a proper visa for entry into Vietnam. I was turned away. Fortunately, I went to the Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok, paid extra, and received an approved visa the same day—so I only stayed an extra night in Thailand. I forgot that Vietnam is one of the countries where a visa cannot be obtained at the airport upon arrival.

When I arrived in Saigon, I needed money, so went to an ATM, but forgot the exchange rate. I thought 20,000 would be a good amount, but the machine said I had to choose 50,000. I got the 50,000 and quickly discovered it was worth $2.85. Meanwhile, my bank charges $5.00 for foreign ATM transactions. I went back and got 1,000,000 dong; about $57.00.

Fortunately, I am okay with chaos in my life . . . otherwise by now I would be frazzled, especially after losing my iPhone in the motorcycle choked streets during a rickshaw ride. 

I am getting good photographs and find people generally open and warm, although as a foreigner, I am often seen as a wealthy person and invited to spend money; Vietnam is a country with one foot in poverty and the other climbing toward affluence. Sometimes in the crowded markets, women grab me forcibly and literally pull me into their stalls, saying, “Mister, what are you looking for?”

After Saigon, I arrived in Hoi An a few days ago, and it is lovely. If not for the heat and sweating so much, I would be out all day long exploring. Amazingly, this town has over 400 tailor shops. It is known internationally as a place to get clothes custom made for prices less than ordinary clothes cost elsewhere.

I am surprised how many people remember me from my visit here last year. I have already been motorcycling with a new friend who showed me around while I looked at houses and shops for rent. It is funny, but when I tell people I am an artist, they act surprised because I do not have long hair. Another thing is how often I am told, “You are a handsome man.” I like it, although maybe it is perhaps an often used compliment.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sawatdi Ka

Chiang Mai
is Thailand’s second city, the northern country cousin to Bangkok. In this city of 150,000 (1 million in the cosmopolitan area), skyscrapers do not exist, but there are more than three hundred temples, among them some of the most beautiful and revered in the entire Buddhist world, giving the city an atmosphere of calmness and timeless elegance. It is international, since so many visitors arrive for the authentic Thai experience, often going trekking into the mountains, riding elephants and river rafting.

My friend Noy and I enjoy each other, and it helps to have a local buddy to make me feel at home and show me around. From the back of the motorcycle, I am given instructions in Thai- Sye (left), Qua (right) and Darong (straight). After seven days, I feel expert in the congested roadways.
Thai people have a nice way of greeting—they bring their palms together in front of their heart in a prayer-like fashion and bow slightly, smiling, and saying sawatdi ka the traditional welcome. Their language is impossible for westerners to read, since the characters are unique.
The markets are always good places to visit for local flavor. Vendors often just spread a blanket out on the pavement and sell their fresh fruits and vegetables. Flowers are plentiful and the variety is wonderful—I saw varieties I had never before seen.
Although I am entranced by the people, way of life, and low cost of living, the art scene in Thailand is not sophisticated enough to convince me to live here. Traditional crafts are plentiful, but I need a contemporary, vibrant and developed art culture to participate in. Nonetheless, certainly I will return.

Tomorrow I travel to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What Happened to July 8th?

Certainly, traveling long distances is mind altering. I boarded a plane in New Mexico that took me to Los Angeles, where late in the evening July 7, we took off on a sixteen-hour flight to Bangkok. I had already booked a hotel for my arrival on July 8, and made arrangements with my Thai friend to meet me at the airport at 9 AM. Then, during the flight I heard an announcement that startled me. We were landing July 9. Quickly, a nightmare unfolded in my mind of my friend waiting for me. I checked with a flight attendant who suggested I use the airplane telephone and call. My friend does not speak English so the attendant had to do the translating. Fortunately, we spoke, but I learned that my friend had been waiting five hours. Ughhh! I felt as though I was in an episode from the Twilight Zone, completely vaporizing a calendar day—July 8, 2009.

I have been in Thailand four days now, and although it is the rainy season, it has not rained and the days have been beautiful. After Bangkok, I am now in Chiang Mai, the second largest Thai city, in the north of the country, and getting a feel for life. Thai people are very polite and warm. I am getting used to seeing occasional elephants, hearing strange instruments played in the streets and riding a motorcycle everywhere. Last night I went with my Chiang Mai friend to dinner in a restaurant that has a huge buffet with raw foods of every kind. Servants bring drinks and then, after selecting your courses, you return to the table and cook your own meals over a big round broiler that looks like a big hat, with a raised middle for cooking meats and seafood, and a circular pan (brim) that boils water and makes a flavorful broth to cook vegetables, shrimp and more. It takes only minutes and is fun. You can cook and season to your own taste, and eat when you like, going back for more ingredients whenever you desire. The food stays hot and fresh right in front of you. All for less than five dollars a person. This one meal a day could be sufficient to live on.
Could I live here as an artist? I will begin to find out in the next days.
Some facts about Thailand.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lovingly Present

Today is the tenth anniversary of Naomi’s death when she was nineteen years old. She is a touchstone for my life. Her spirit inspires me to live to the fullest with joy, and care for all living beings. At the cemetery, her mother, step-mother, uncle, a friend and I all gathered and laid roses on her grave, remembering her, and read passages from her journals. She had such remarkable strength and devotion, and was precocious as a child, starting her first diary when only eleven years old. Later, as she was struggling for her life, she wrote: Show up and be lovingly present, no matter what it looks like out there or inside of yourself. Always speak the truth of your heart. To read more of Naomi’s writings about life and death, go to:
I am leaving for Thailand this Tuesday, July 7. I will be there for about two weeks, then go to Vietnam for another two weeks. I have friends in both countries, and I am considering moving to one or the other because the cost of living is low and quality of life is high. Here in the USA I am not earning enough as an artist because of a soured economy, and my cost of living is high, so that I am spending my savings. I am not worried, but neither am I stuck in a rut. I enjoy flux and trust that I can be homeless and happy . . . I can live where the wind takes me. I can be creative anywhere.
I recently finished a new art piece. It is a mixed media diptych on canvas attached to board. I used encaustic (hot wax) as a medium, and enjoy the process, although it is difficult getting a handle on it. The wax must be hot in order to be fluid, and as soon as it cools, which is immediately, it hardens and is impossible to work with. So I have to use a heat gun and hotplate to keep the process flowing. After I return from Asia, I will continue producing new work in this fashion and make a collection.