Thailand continues to be completely amazing. Unfortunately, it's all winding down. Claire and I are in Nakhon Si Thammarat, home to Suchar Subsin, Thailand's living treasure of shadow puppetry. To get to his workshop, we hopped on a shared taxi, where riders share benches on the back of a small pickup truck. This taxi was different than any other that we had been in, because it was filled with schoolgirls and sporting a bumpin' sound system and video screen cranking some karaoke hits. The taxi dropped us off at a motorcycle taxi stand, where we took a white-knuckle motorcycle ride to the workshop.
Suchart Subsin's workshop is very unassuming. We were met by a kindly old woman who handed us a well-written pamphlet in English, and ushered us to the museum, where they have amassed a collection of historical Thai shadow puppets--some older than 200 years. Thai shadow puppets, like others from India and Indonesia, are carefully cut out of animal hide, then colored and tanned to make them last. There are certain themes that wind their way through Thai puppetry--mostly a hero trying to get to a girl, and some trickster characters who might work for a villain.
The master actually performed a puppet show for our little audience of three (Claire and I plus another tourist who wandered in). It was amazing to see the two-dimensional figures come to life. Subsin provided all of the voices for the characters, as well as a bit of musical accompanimnent. Our story involved a King who wanted to marry his daughter off, a hero, and somehow, two bumbling tricksters who rode motorbikes and finally, a jet plane. Another modern touch involved the heroine of the story using a cell phone. I think the puppetmaster enjoyed spicing things up a bit.
We bought a bunch of amazing puppets, and even took a bit of video of the puppet show. When we're stateside again, I'll post some of them to my YouTube account. We're off to Bangkok tomorrow afternoon, and this time as officially certified SCUBA divers. I've got a lot more to share about the markets, "Ingrish" T-shirts, and some other irrelevant observations, but that'll have to wait until another time. In the meantime, if you're planning a trip to Thailand, plan on making Nakhon Si Thammarat part of your schedule.
Greeting from Ko Tao Island, Thailand. Claire and I are here learning to Scuba dive, and we've been too tired each evening to make the long trek to the internet cafe. Our cozy little room and fruity drinks have overwhelmed the urge to communicate with the outside world. The hippies have been replaced by "adventure types"...the dreadlock ratio is probably the same as Pai, though. Same same, but different, as they say here.
There's really not much to report...we took our first ocean dives today, which were amazing. There's talk of whale sharks about, so cross your fingers for us. I think both of us are dreading re-entering the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, but that's the way the mango sticky rice crumbles. We started exploring the world of custom tailoring in Bangkok, and I decided to have a few suits made. I'll tell you more about that later. I posted a cheesy camera video to Youtube of our elephant ride, which you can find here. I hope to get around to posting some more photos to Flickr soon. Until later!
Oh, Thailand! Why are you so good? As is our custom, Claire and I have been balancing the hectic and the relaxing...enjoying the hustle and bustle of city life, then retreating to quieter places. I've been wanting to post an update, but somehow, there are playa hating computers in Thailand that don't want to give me access to this blog. The (Thai) man can't keep me down, though. I'm writing this from Pai (pronounced "bye"), which is a lovely town nestled in a valley between mountains in Northern Thailand. It's blessed with a great river and hot springs.
It's also cursed with HIPPIES! The place is lousy with them. I suppose that everybody needs a place to go, but the hippies have taken to Pai like tapeworms to a coprophiliac. Everywhere we turn, some blissed out human in Guatamalan jinglepants is giving us a conspiratorial look. Whatever it is you think we're sharing, Pai hippies, we're probably not. Claire and I sat at a restaurant when we first arrived in town next to a grizzled hippie zen master and his young accolyte. It didn't take long for Grasshopper to offer this gem: "There's nothing like lighting some candles and sharing a good movie with somebody you love." No shit, sherlock?
The markets in Pai are an interesting case in Economics 101. With a population of kind, smelly hippies yowling for baja shirts and African-styled Tom-Tom club hats, the local hill tribes are only too happy to oblige, offering up plenty of hacky sacks and hats with earflaps(who needs earflaps in Thailand? This isn't Sheboygan, Wisconsin...). The food here is amazing, as well as the view. The hippies are my cross to bear...but if I see one more person with a hula hoop or walking stick, I'm going to lose it.
Today, we partook in one of the classic Pai offerings....the elephant camp. There are several elephant camps nestled into an area near the Tha Pae Hot Springs here. For around $10 per person, you can spend a couple of hours riding on an elephant, including taking a swim in the river with the elephants, which is a pretty amazing thrill. The picture above shows Claire and I after being dumped off the elephant in the water a couple of dozen times.
Tomorrow, we're off to Chiang Mai, Thailand's second biggest city. There's a flower festival going on, and I can't wait to see what it has to offer. I've heard tales of the flower craft being awfully extreme. We'll also get a chance to check out their famous night market, where tons of compromised native craft will no doubt be on offer. God bless the Macintosh-filled internet cafe that I'm writing this from in Pai. I was able to take some of these photos off of my camera and upload them to my Flickr account. I'll try to keep posting some photos for y'all, so check back for more. In the meantime, enjoy the photos of Garfield craft here. From what I can tell, the Thais have a relationship with Garfield not unlike that of the French with Jerry Lewis.
LINK to my Flickr photos
Claire and I have been in Thailand for exactly 36 hours now, and it's been a serious whirlwind. Fresh off the boat, we did a walking tour of Bangkok, including the Grand Palace and Temple of the Golden Buddha. Every surface of these buildings were covered in mirrors, tiles, and gold laquer bits that would make your average Bling lover wet themselves with fear. We took some pictures, but I don't think they can express the opulence..the sheer over-the-topness of it all. I'll share them when I can.
Today, we got up bright and early and visited the Chatuchak weekend market, which is the biggest, most mind-blowing of Thailand's markets. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was figuring that it would be something like the Mall of America...a bunch of shops all selling the same few things. We were pleasantly surprised to find out the market was overwhelming in its diversity. There were kitschy Hill Tribe craft booths to be sure, but there was also a section that was filled with the work of young designers and fashionistas. The Thais are as obsessed as the Japanese with cute dolls and characters, but they love to throw in a weird twist. The one thing the market was filled with were these string dolls (and countless knocked-off versions of them). The string dolls have made a big splash in design stores throughout the U.S., thanks no doubt to a crafty importer-exporter.
We found an amazing T-shirt designer who would have cleaned up at any indie craft show in the States. Your heart would have been melted by their shirt with a guinea pig being bombed by some very cute airplanes. Blogging from the road rules, and I can't wait to do some more of it. Maybe one of the internet cafes on the road will have a card reader so that I can share some pictures with you. Our bus to Chiang Mai is here, so I'll type at you soon.