Monday, January 27, 2014

Chiang Mai: Wat Wat Wat!

Whilst in Chiang Mai, we hit up many a wat (temple), as one is wont to do in that town. 
Wat wat wat! 
First, the wat on the hill: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Doi Suthep for short).

Located on the top of a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep was founded in the 1300s, when, as legend says, a white elephant carrying a relic (a piece of one of the Buddha's shoulder bones)was released into the jungle, it climbed Doi Suthep mountain and died at the top.  As a result of this sign, the temple was built at the spot atop the mountain.  Here's a replica of the white elephant:

After driving most of the way up the mountain, you have to climb a cool set of 309 stairs for the last bit up to the temple... stairs guarded by two nagas:

At the top, the golden stupa is quite pretty, as are the many Buddha statues surrounding it:

There were lots of people making offerings and praying, circling the stupa clockwise and pouring oil over these lamps:

While at Doi Suthep, I got photos of these temple dogs lounging on the steps... it was cold (down into the 50s at night) while we were in Chiang Mai, and it seemed that all of the stray dogs, whether living at a temple or on the street, were suddenly clothed in sweaters and t-shirts to keep them warm!:

 Other temples we visited were in Chiang Mai's old city, inside its defensive wall and moat.  First, Wat Chedi Luang, which was built starting in the 1400s.  For part of a century, the Emerald Buddha was housed in Wat Chedi Luang (remember the Emerald Buddha? Now it's in Bangkok at the Grand Palace.):

Our favorite part of Wat Chedi Luang, though, was their Monk Chat program, advertised below.  As part of the program, you can chat with monks in pursuit of cultural exchange and better English skills.  Suggested topics of conversation, according to the sign, include:
  • Buddhism and Thai culture.
  • The life of Monks.
  • The traditions of your country.
  • Charity work.
  • Anything.  (this one was our favorite)

Another common sign in the wats of Chiang Mai... not sure what "sprinter property of you" is (besides a strange translation):

We also went to Wat Phra Singh, where this guy greeted us... inexplicably:

These pretty buildings also greeted us: 

Pretty door:

At this wat, people were praying in front of a stupa, but also using this pulley system to elevate what I assume is holy/blessed water in a metal tube up the side of the stupa and splash it down the stupa.  People were lined up to use this contraption... check out the video below:


Friday, January 17, 2014

Diving Gili Air (Without Chuck): Marlin Point

I like turtles.
 I don't know why it's taken me so long to post these last few diving photos and videos from our trip to the Gili islands back in November, but better late than never!  This is the last dive I did, another one that Chuck could not join in on because of her stomach bug, which is really unfortunate because it was amazeballs.  The dive was at Marlin Point, which I strangely can't find any info about on the internet (it must mean I dreamed it, right?).

Highlights of the video below:
- an octopus that you can see hidden in the coral (white body, dark eye) after I fend past my nice but completely oblivious dive buddy (she didn't seem to have any sense of personal space- at any given point during the dive I would find her directly below me, blowing her bubbles straight into my face, totally clueless)
- a lion fish behind a sea sponge
- a stonefish (or is it scorpion fish?) shifting position on the reef
- ginormous giant clam
- big old floppy anemone
- a turtle resting on the top of the reef, with two remora friends
- another pretty anemone
- a very pretty lion fish floating on the reef
- SCUBA selfie!
- pretty fish, including a Moorish idol
- a turtle chilling by the dive site's namesake marlin statue

Not captured on film:
- mantis shrimp
- moray eel

Lion fish... don't touch!
A turtle at Marlin Point
Pretty coral.
  But what really made this dive special is the crazy schools of fish hanging out by the reef.  This video below is long, but worth watching (in HD! full screen!) if you can... so pretty.  At some point we realized we were completely surrounded by large schools of fish- all different kinds- swimming and generally hanging out near us.  

From what I could tell there were schools of yellow fusiliers, stripey sargeant major damselfishes, and some other fish that I haven't been able to ID (Steve? Do you know what the larger, silver ones are? They have some yellow around their eyeballs?).  The schools of fish didn't seem to have any particular agenda- just hanging out!  So cool!  Plus, add a turtle casually swimming through and pulling up a piece of coral to nap on?  Priceless.

At one point I looked over at the divemaster and she was making grand gestures with her arms.  She later told me she felt like a mermaid... I concur!  It was pretty magical.

Sleeping turtle.
You can barely see the other divers through the wall of fish!
So pretty!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chiang Mai: 10,000 Monks

Between Christmas and New Year's eve, we headed back to Chiang Mai, this time with Colleen, Steve and Colleen's brother John (more on the rest of their visit soon... we're getting all crazy with the chronology of this blog lately!).  We rented a house that included airport pickup and during the ride the owner explained to us that there was a big ceremony happening within walking distance to our house the following morning: 10,000 Buddhist monks from around the region would be accepting alms from the public in a large annual ceremony.  We also saw advertisements all around town for the ceremony and we were intrigued, so we decided to check it out despite the ridiculously early start time.

We bundled up (it was chilly there! although it was no polar vortex) and headed out while it was still dark... we knew where we were going and yet questioned it because the streets were so quiet.  As we rounded the corner, though, and saw the gaggles of monks, alms collection bowls in hand, quietly making their way to the site, we knew we were going in the right direction:

Photo courtesy of Colleen.
When we arrived, we found one of Chiang Mai's major streets entirely blocked off and carpeted with plastic sheeting for blocks and blocks.  The monks seem to have congregated at the far end of the street from where we sat, and they got chairs, according to some photos I found online.  Locals, mostly dressed in white, had already started finding seats on the ground along the road, organized in three long rows separated by two aisles through which the monks would eventually walk.  Everyone took their shoes off before sitting and prepared their offerings, which ranged from flowers to bottled water, to instant noodles or pre-packaged bags full of food and grooming necessities (not unlike the monk comfort packs they sell at grocery stores and 7-11s around the country), which is what we opted for (see below). Thais believe that providing alms to monks helps them to "make merit," which can help them obtain certain things in this life and the next. 

Photo of sleepy me courtesy of Colleen.
We sat around for a while and finally the ceremony got started. A lot of it we couldn't understand, but it was clear that much of it was prayers said by various monks, and many times the crowd participated in the chanting and praying.  Check it out in the video below:

The locals, mostly dressed in white, praying before the monks started walking:

Everyone patiently waiting for the ceremony to start:

Eventually, the monks, young and old, started making their way down the aisles... the locals were just as excited as we were to capture the event on camera:

Photo courtesy of Colleen.
Photo courtesy of Colleen.
 Some of them looked very cold, whereas others were bundled up in saffron blankets and/or crocheted hats that coordinated with their robes:

The monks sort of wound their way around the aisles and eventually were given the go-ahead to begin accepting offerings.

Colleen picked a cute elderly monk for her offering, while I picked a young one:

Photo courtesy of Colleen.

Look how young these monks are!:

At certain points there were so many monks and so much stuff being offered as alms that there was a bit of a back-up in the aisles...  check out the Costco-sized piles of goods these people below have to offer up:

Some people also offered cash and a prayer for local temples... the cash is attached to a "money tree."  This isn't specific to this event- you see these money trees all over Thailand supporting various temples or charities (kinda like the donation boxes next to the cash register in America):

So many donations were received that the monks had to empty their alms bowls into trash bags held by high school students.  The excess gets donated to charities (we think the donations from this particular event went to families affected by the violence in southern Thailand):

Photo courtesy of Colleen.
Photo courtesy of Colleen.

I'm not sure there were actually 10,000 monks as advertised, but there were definitely several thousand, I think.  It was difficult to tell from our vantage point, but I found this shot online that better shows just how big the event was... check it out here.

Photo courtesy of Colleen!l
Pretty cool event to participate in, all in all!