A grand design

Grand Palace, Bangkok, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2016.

Here is my latest art work, based on a photo I took at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve been to the Grand Palace at least 20 times, and it never ceases to amaze me with its vibrant colour, myriad sculptures, designs, gold figures, wall murals, gold and inlaid gems, temples and more.

I’ve used Copic markers, Prismacolour coloured pencils, and a Copic multi-liner pen in an 0.03 thickness, on A4-size Arttec bleed-proof paper.

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Nothing lasts forever

IMG_2532

I have a couple of possessions that have been part of my everyday routine for a decade or more. They are not necessarily valuable or one-of-a-kind, or even very unusual.

One of them was a Capricorn mug I got in Thailand when I was living there in the late-1990s. Almost every day since then, I have had at least one cup of tea from this mug.

IMG_2535Although the gold leaf that used to decorate it has almost gone, it seemed to be going strong. But a few days ago, it broke when it fell into the sink. Just broke, just like that.

Now I have to throw it away, and I will. But I will miss it.

Knowing it couldn’t last too much longer, I recently searched for another on the internet, but there is not one to be found, it would seem, although these mugs were available in a shop at a particularly popular shopping centre in central Bangkok for six years or more.

A couple of years ago, I even emailed the factory that makes Royal Bone China in Thailand, hoping they might have some remainders. They replied very cordially, but no luck: the cups had all been sold years before.

So now all I have is these pictures. If ever you see one, let me know, won’t you?IMG_2531

You don’t see this too often

eggThe other morning, I decided to have a fried egg for breakfast. I heated the pan, cracked the shell of a fresh, free-range organic egg, and…out popped a beautiful double yolk.
I’ve seen this only once or twice before in all the thousands of eggs I’ve eaten, including the truly free-range farm eggs I used to buy in rural Thailand in the early 1990s, they of the bright orange yolks and rich flavour.
It got me thinking about other natural phenomena we love to see: there’s something about them that makes you feel lucky all day.
I’ve seen several shooting stars. They’re usually something you see out of the corner of your eye and realise only after that that’s what it was. The most memorable was in Bangkok in the late 1990s. My then-husband and I used sometimes on a Saturday night to go up to the roof of our apartment building where the pool was and lie on the deck chairs, looking up at the sky.
Unbelievably, given the pollution, you could still see stars. One night, we saw what we thought was a bright shooting star go right across the sky. I’m calling it a shooting star, but this is my name for anything I see in the sky like that: it may well have been some other phenomenon.
I’ve never seen a five-leaf clover, but I have a friend who goes running every day, and she has seen quite a few.
But then, you have to be looking for these things to see them.

A hotch potch: pink frothy tea, stir-fried cucumber and an accidental recipe

 

Have a nice cup of (pink and white frothy) tea, why don’t you?

Here is what I tried this week: a “geisha green tea latte”… that was not green at all, but looked like a strawberry and vanilla milkshake, only hot.

latteI read a lot of inventive things on blogs such as RocketNews24, which has articles about the weird and wonderful flavours of food products in Japan, mainly (chocolate-covered squid, anyone?).

So, what did a geisha green tea latte taste like? It actually tasted like green tea…with rose-flavoured milk froth. It was pricy at $5.20.

Would I have it again? Probably. I like milk shakes, and I like rose-flavoured herbal tea, so a hot green tea milk shake tastes pretty good to me.

When I was a young adult in New Zealand in the 1980s, cafes offered coffee or tea, and that was it. If you ordered coffee, it was usually a spoon of Nescafe stirred into just-boiled water; if tea, you still usually got actual tea leaves in a tea pot. But there was no, “Will that be English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, Lady Grey, Orange Pekoe or decaf, with skinny or whole milk?” The only choices were black and white, sugar or none. My great-grandmother was disturbed when she discovered I didn’t take sugar. “A girl needs sugar in her tea – it’s good for you,” she maintained. (She also felt it highly disturbing that I washed my hair in the morning before heading off to uni. I would, she said, catch my death of cold, one of these days).

But back to choice. So great are the choices these days that what we finish up with often doesn’t resemble the original product at all. My husband recently ordered a “low-fat decaf latte, no sugar”. The waiter retorted, “Why bother?” and we all laughed.

When I first came back to Australia in 1993 from my first two-and-a-half-year stint in Thailand, I was appalled by the amount of choice in the supermarkets of Melbourne. Who needed 50 different types of breakfast cereals? I would stand in the aisles, just staring at the burgeoning shelves. I hate breakfast cereal anyway. My favourite breakfast is congee with chilli, fish sauce and chicken, the way they do it in Thailand. Or reheated left-over rice, with a raw egg stirred through. But toast and marmite or toast and tahine will do if I have to have a western breakfast.

In Thailand in the early 1990s, supermarkets were evolving but they were still not the most usual way Thais shopped, except for canned goods and other packaged products such as instant noodles. They mostly went to markets with fresh unpackaged and unprocessed produce.

Supermarkets had a limited choice (unless you wanted hair-care products), but always great were the lean chicken, truly free-range eggs with the yellowest yolks, delicate quail’s eggs, and luscious prawns ($1 worth was plenty for the two of us for dinner). In the vegetable aisle, we soon learnt to choose Thai vegetables, because such things as potatoes and carrots were pitiful, if available at all. Straw mushrooms, aubergines of all sizes down to the bitter pea-size ones for green curry, red capsicum, snake beans, snow peas, baby corn, spring onions. The best buys were the pre-packaged vegetables and herbs for recipes, just enough to add to your tom ka gai, tom yum or gaeng keow wan that night. A packet, which cost just a few baht, would contain, for example, kaffir lime leaves, a couple of sticks of lemon grass, garlic, chillies, a lime, and so on.

Now, of course, supermarkets in Bangkok are huge, swish and unrecognisable from what they used to be. I’m pleased to see, though, that they retain their “Thainess” among all the expensive imports, and that you can still buy those little packets of herbs and vegetables.

When I first went to Thailand in 1990, you couldn’t buy a cappuccino, really. Some restaurants had what they called cappuccino, but it was regular coffee with whipped cream on the top.

No matter – I used always to order nam manao (Thai lime-ade) when I was out, anyway: lime juice, soda water, salt and a little sugar syrup, the most thirst-quenching drink ever.

Sometimes, mistakes end up being the best recipes. I remember one time, we decided to have dinner with some friends who lived in the same apartment building in Mung Thong Thani (Nonthaburi province), which was then a small village but is now a satellite city. Here was what the village and its supermarket looked like in 1991:

Muang Thong Thani Village, Nonthaburi, Thailand, 1991. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann

Muang Thong Thani Village, Nonthaburi, Thailand, 1991, about 1km from the apartment building where I lived.                                  Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann

You wouldn’t recognise it today.

Anyway, we were just to bring over to our friends’ place what we had planned to have for dinner, they would add theirs, and we would all share.

I had been planning to have prawns and stir-fried zucchini – wonder of wonders, since I hadn’t seen a zucchini before in a Thai supermarket and had found one that morning.

Or so I thought.

When I went to cut up the “zucchini”, I found that it was, in fact, a cucumber. There was nothing for it  but to put it in with the prawns, anyway. I cut it into long crunchy ribbons and added it just before serving over rice. I also used garlic, chilli, lime, thinly sliced capsicum, fish sauce and a touch of oyster sauce. It came out so clean and fresh-tasting, and I still make that recipe today.

Sometimes the combinations you make by accident are the best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writers on Writing #1: Angela Savage

I’ve always wondered why the most dreadful crime, murder, is attractive to audiences, whether readers or TV/film viewers. None of us would want to have to deal with a murder in our own family, yet so many of us love reading about it.

This carries over to real life stories as well. When I was at journalism school in New Zealand, I did some work experience at a radio station in Auckland. One morning, the news editor came in rubbing his hands in glee: “There’s nothing like a good homicide to start the day,” he said.

I love a good murder mystery on page and screen as much as anyone else, though I don’t like too much graphic description. I wouldn’t describe myself as a devotee of the murder mystery genre particularly: but when I looked at my book diary for last year, I discovered that 50% of the novels I read in 2013 were, in fact, murder mysteries.

One of the writers I follow is the Melbourne-based novelist Angela Savage, whose blog you can access here. I started reading her books when her first Jayne Keeney, P. I. novel, Behind the Night Bazaar, came out in 2006. Anyone who knows me also knows that reading books about Thailand is my passion (and I’ve also written two myself). When I heard that a novel set in Thailand had won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, I couldn’t wait for it to come out. It didn’t disappoint, and I have eagerly awaited each new book in the series since then. Now there are three, with the publication of The Half-Child (2010) and The Dying Beach (2013).

Last year, through the magic of social media, Angela and I became friends, and we’ve met several times to chat about reading, writing and publishing. We have also discovered that we have at least two other friends in common, and were even invited to the same New Year’s Eve party! Small world, indeed.
Angela kindly agreed to take time out from her extremely busy schedule to answer some questions for this blog. I think you’ll find her answers most interesting, even if you haven’t yet read her novels.

 Angela Savage.

Angela Savage.

1. Why are so many readers fascinated by the crime of murder?

Angela: “Agatha Christie suggests there is an instinctive human need that is satisfied by terror, and Stephen King calls fear the ‘finest emotion’. Murder has always been part of the great narratives, from the ancient Greek myths and Chinese ghost stories, to the Norse sagas and Shakespearean tragedies. In these forms as in crime fiction, we get to experience our fear of death—especially sudden and violent death—through the safety of stories.”

 

2. You are familiar with many parts of Asia, so why did you choose Thailand as the setting for your books?

“Of all the places I’ve lived in Asia, Bangkok is the only location I could feasibly base my expatriate private detective character. I needed a city large and liberal enough for a farang like Jayne Keeney to fly beneath the radar. This could never happen in communist countries like Laos or Vietnam, where I also lived; and Cambodia in the 1990s was simply too dangerous for a lone female PI of any nationality to hang out her shingle.”

Dyingbeach 3. Although Thailand is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, it is a more difficult location to use in novels—many more best sellers are set in other parts of Asia, such as China and Japan. Why is this?

“That’s a good question. It strikes me that both China and Japan were subjected at one time or another to occupation by Western powers, making them perhaps more ‘known’ to Western writers than Thailand, which has never been colonised by the West. But this is pure hypothesis on my part. I’d love to know others’ thoughts on this.”

4. This is one of the reasons I was so delighted when I heard an Australian novel set in Thailand had won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript in 2004. What effect did this prize have on your life as a writer?

“The Victorian Premier’s Award proved to be my pathway to publication. A member of the judging panel was at the time a senior editor at Text Publishing and she made an offer on the manuscript following the awards night. It took 18 months and another four drafts, but the manuscript was eventually published as Behind the Night Bazaar in 2006. I’ve since published two more novels in the Jayne Keeney PI series, The Half-Child in 2010 and The Dying Beach in 2013.”

the-half-child5. Your books have a lot of integrity. You don’t buy into the usual stereotypes. There are no excuses for and no glamour in the drug or prostitution trades, for example, in your books.  Has your work for aid agencies been influential in the themes of your books?

“Thank you for those compliments, Caron. It means a lot to me as I my writing is motivated in large part by a desire to challenge the usual stereotypes. While mindful of debates about voice appropriation and writing about other cultures, I try through my writing to rise to the challenge Edward Said put forward in 1994’s Culture and Imperialism: ‘to think concretely sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others…not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how ‘our’ culture or country is number one (or not number one, for that matter).’

“To answer your question, yes, my work for aid agencies has been influential in the themes of my books. In Behind the Night Bazaar, for example, I gave Jayne’s Canadian friend Didier my previous job as a HIV/AIDS educator. The Half-Child drew on the experience of expatriate volunteers I met in Asia who’d worked in local orphanages. And the environmental themes in The Dying Beach rely heavily on my partner’s experience working for an environmental advocacy organisation based in Thailand.

“But my interest in Asia and the politics that underpin my novels predate my career as an aid worker. Indeed, I was drawn to international development as a way to nurture those passions. Nowadays I nurture them through my writing.”

btnbazaar6. What can we expect next from Jayne Keeney and Rajiv Patel? Please tell me they get married!

“As if I’d let slip a spoiler like that! That said, I do have long-term plans for Jayne and Rajiv—which is ironic, seeing as how before I wrote him into The Half-Child, I told someone in response to an interview question that Jayne would never have a partner.”

7. Is there any question you wish interviewers would ask you, but they never do? (If there is, please write an answer to it, too!)

“Having just read Stephen King’s On Writing, I’m tempted to quote Amy Tan and say, ‘No one ever asks about the language.’ But that’s not entirely true. I do get asked about my use of Thai language and idioms. I was also asked recently about my favourite thing I’d written. I’m still searching for the answer to that one.

“I have to say you’ve asked some great questions in this interview, Caron, enabling me to touch on topics that I rarely get to talk about. Thanks for that.

“Last year I was on a panel at the Brisbane Writers Festival called ‘Scene of the Crime’, one of several similar sessions I’ve been part of over the years in which crime writers talk about place and setting in their work. The session chair kicked off with an excellent question about why it is we seem to talk about location in crime fiction more than any other genre. My response was: ‘Because it prevents us from having to talk about the crimes.’ Everyone nodded, then went back to talking about place and setting.

“To paraphrase Amy Tan, no one ever asks about the crimes.

“I would love to talk more in interviews and on panels about the crimes in crime fiction. Why do authors choose to write about specific crimes? How do their theories or perceptions of crime and criminality underpin their work? To what extent does the author see crime in terms of individual morality/psychology versus system failure?

“I definitely fall into the latter camp. I studied criminology as an undergraduate and came to understand crime in terms of various systems failure: in economics, education, mental health, etc. But given the popularity of serial killers  and psychotics in crime fiction, I suspect I’m in the minority in this regard. Still, I’d jump at the chance to have the debate.”

Peacetime at home

Even if you can't afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

Even if you can’t afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

This post is written in response to Kozo’s June Peace Challenge at Everyday Gurus, to write about maintaining peace at home.

In our hectic lives when every minute of the waking day seems to be filled with work, chores, to-do lists and regrets about so few items on those lists we’ve crossed off,  sometimes we forget that relentlessly, every minute, time is passing us by.

We often neglect relationships with the people closest to us in the pursuit of making those very people’s lives better: trying to make more money to buy them more things, trying to achieve what we suppose are life’s goals.

Yet on our death beds, we will never be glad we made more money, spent more hours working, bought more stuff or cleaned the house more often. We might, however, regret not spending more time on just being with those we love, listening to them and facilitating peace between us.

It’s so important to replenish, rejuvenate and find a sense of joy and peace in our lives, without feeling guilty for taking time out.

I’ve compiled a list of six things I think are important to promote a sense of well being, peace and inner health: I am not saying I follow these things all the time. Too often, I too forget that the world won’t collapse if I don’t meet a deadline.

1. Recycle some stuff you don’t need. There’s something cathartic about de-cluttering your house, and even better if that stuff can go to a good cause and your trash can be someone else’s treasure.

2. Read inspiring novels. Great books teach us empathy, something that is sorely missing in this society that sees angry people constantly tooting horns, pushing in front of each other, and discriminating against their fellow people. Read the classics: anything by Charles Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; read recent novels—anything by Mitch Albom, for example; read historical novels such as March by Geraldine Brooks.

3. Take a vacation, or holiday, as we call it in Australia. Of course, not everyone can afford to actually go away on vacation to an exotic tropical beach, but you could take a holiday at home, even if it’s only over a weekend. A holiday at home means you vow to do no work—not even housework—on those days; it means the majority of every day is relaxing and enjoyable—read a book, watch a movie with your family, make a picnic lunch, lie in bed reading the newspaper.

4. Be a tourist in your own city, and visit the art galleries, museums, or other places of culture you’ve been meaning to see. Go to a live theatre show, particularly if you’ve never been to one before. Small, independent theatre companies desperately need your support and can often be surprisingly affordable.

5. Contact a friend you’ve been neglecting because you’re always too busy. If we don’t keep working at friendships, they are in danger of fading away. And even if this is the sort of person you know you could pick up with again at any time, it’s sad to get out of touch and miss the events, big and small, that are important in each other’s lives.

6. Go for a walk and get to know your neighbourhood. We spend so much time at our computers, in our cars, sitting in the train or bus, that we forget to walk. I walk most days, and often towards dusk, I pass an elderly Greek couple sitting on the veranda of their neat-as-a-pin house overlooking their carefully tended garden. We nod and chat now, even though our conversations are limited by a language barrier. But no matter, we mean each other well. On another street, there’s an old black and white cat who suns himself every afternoon on the warm concrete path outside the apartment where he lives. Then there’s an old man who looks about 90, who rides an ancient bicycle to and from the shops every day. There are all sorts of modes of transport round our neigbourhood: the other day, I saw a young man casually riding a unicycle along the street. Every day, I notice something I have never seen before.

For more on establishing and maintaining a peaceful home, check out blogger Julianne Victoria’s inspirations at Through the Peacock’s Eyes, and to discover what ducks have to do with peace, see the blog My Little Spacebook.

About-face

This post is part of A Word A Week Challenge: Face, run by A Word In Your Ear.

Akha hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, Thailand, 1991, by © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011. Acrylics on canvas board.

Akha hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, Thailand, 1991, by © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011. Acrylics on canvas board.

I met and photographed this Akha hilltribe woman at a village on Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, in April 1991. Twenty years later, when I first took up art as a hobby, I decided to paint her portrait.

She always stuck in my mind, because she was the only Akha living in a Lisu village. Through the guide, she told me she was aged 39 and had three children.

I had been living in Nonthaburi, central Thailand, since December 1990 and we had taken advantage of the songkran (Thai new year) holiday to travel up north for a few days.

The Lisu village we visited was a set-up for tourists really. I still have my journal from that time, in which I’ve written that the Lisus usually live in isolated villages high in the mountains, but this village had been persuaded by an elephant training centre to relocate within a half-hour trek of them so they could bring in tourists to buy their arts and crafts.

In those days, the village had no electricity, no running water, no TVs or even radio. In the past, the hilltribes relied on opium as their cash crop, but the Thai government had banned its sale, so they had to find other ways to make a living.

Lisu hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, 1991. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 1991.

Lisu hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 1991.

This woman was also at the Lisu village, sitting in the same hut as the Akha woman. They were both doing some sort of needlework.

Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 1991.

Merchants at a Hmong village, Doi Suthep, Thailand. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 1991.

The next day, we went to a Hmong village that was not so far up the mountain and that we could drive into. This husband and wife were among the stall-holders there. All the adults then wore traditional dress and—even though there was an element of showmanship for tourists—I found the images unforgettable. Children at the more isolated village we had visited also wore traditional dress—at least for the cameras—but at the Hmong village, many were wearing T-shirts and track pants.

In my journal from that time, I’ve written about the Hmong village: “There was no road to the village until 12 or 13 years ago, and villagers once went to Chiang Mai only around once a year. Now they go more often, but still they resist development, although we did notice a pick-up truck in one garage.”

They resist “development” no longer, it seems. In November 2012, more than 21 years later, I returned to the Hmong village. These days, there are no traditional costumes to be seen, just jeans, T-shirts with marketing logos and other ordinary Western clothes. There are pick-up trucks everywhere. Most people speak English as well as Thai.

The village market today is full of the same “hand-made” crafts you can buy in Bangkok, Phuket, or anywhere else. There are still people assembling these goods, but they seem to come ready-made in large batches, to be quickly pieced together on site. Someone is making  a fortune, and it’s surely not the hilltribe people.

Thailand: kaleidoscope of patterns

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Like Sara Rosso at The Daily Post, I am always inspired by the colourful, highly detailed and often surprising patterns of Thailand. This is the subject of my entry in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern.

My parents and brother visited me in 1999 when I was living in Thailand, and I always remember Mum said that when they returned to Melbourne, she missed the colours and shapes of the temples and other buildings of Thailand.

When I was there in November last year, I took many photos of the intricate patterns I saw all round me, both man-made and natural. I intend to use them to inspire abstract paintings.

Here are some of my photos from our trip, which took in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen, and a painting to finish, of a temple wall mosaic at the Grand Palace, Bangkok.

Chair detail, in-room at Dusit D2, Chiang Mai

Chair detail, in-room at Dusit D2, Chiang Mai

Basket detail, Thai Farmer House, Chiang Mai

Basket detail, Thai Farmer House, Chiang Mai

Floor tiles at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Floor tiles at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

At the lush gardens of Queen Sirikit's Bhubing Palace, Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai.

At the lush gardens of Queen Sirikit’s Bhubing Palace, Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai.

 

Temple Wall detail, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Temple Wall detail, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Temple tile details, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Temple tile details, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Detail, temple wall, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Detail, temple wall, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Wooden carving at Wat Doi Suthep

Wooden carving at Wat Doi Suthep

Golden umbrella with intricate lacework at Wat Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai

Golden umbrella with intricate lacework at Wat Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai

Photo ©Caron Dann, 2012

The Serene Hotel at the Golden Triangle, near Chiang Saen, with views across the river to Laos and Myanmar.

My painting of tile detail at the Grand Palace, Bangkok. Pastel on board.

My painting of tile detail at the Grand Palace, Bangkok. Pastel on board.

Industrial Ballet

This post is written in response to A Word A Week Challenge: Industrial, which you can see more of here.

Suvarnabhumi AirportIn November, I visited Bangkok, where I used to live, for the first time in 11 years. Among the changes was the new airport, Suvarnabhumi (pronounced Su-wahn-na-poom), opened in 2006. I was impressed by the blend of structural engineering and architecture in the design, which its renowned Chicago architect, Helmut Jahn, describes as “archineering”. In 2012, the airport was the most popular location in the world for the taking of Instagram photos, according to the Bangkok Post (read more here).

There is a lot of glass in the passenger terminal, but everything looks sparklingly clean. While I was there, I was fascinated to see this window-cleaner at work. The series of photos looks almost like an industrial ballet. I love the etched glass doors, too.

Suvarnabhumi Airport, copyright Caron Eastgate Dann 2012

 

Suvarnabhumi Airport, copyright Caron Eastgate Dann 2012

Thainikon 017

Suvarnabhumi Airport, copyright Caron Eastgate Dann 2012

Suvarnabhumi Airport, copyright Caron Eastgate Dann 2012