I’ve found it! I’ve found it!! The Holy Grail!
Yes–I found a HOT SHOWER!! Not a *warm* shower, but a HOT one…the kind that’s almost too hot, where you actually want to turn it down just a notch, where you can stand under the paradisial flow and enjoy the heat running like lava down…
You don’t want to hear about it?
But it’s a HOT…
Body paint?!? But look, I’ve found a…oh, all right. You just don’t appreciate it because you’ve actually *got* one. Hmph. Silly people. You must be Americans or something. 😉
But wait, before we get to the body paint I have to catch you up on Chiang Mai. I’ll just mention (slyly) that I have seen the 120mm slides and they are FANTASTIC…the digital snapshots have absolutely *nothing* on them. 72 exposures–at least 15 excellent, five stunning, and one or two *perfect* (publishable poster quality). I’ve sent them in for scanning and Richard is retouching the best one or two for me…most likely the one where Artemis meets warrior princess (bow huntress), but he’s going to check them with a loup, just in case. However, since I don’t have the scans (yet) you’ll just have to spend a bit longer in anticipation. (The retouched version probably won’t be available until I get back from Cambodia.)
I do, however, have great shots of me with everything from jade dagger to rusty sword to fish spear to unarmed combat, plus some great pix with a chunky red coral necklace with protruding spiny shells (very savage). And the bow, and an opium pipe. I just wish we’d been able to get that gnawed-off thighbone. Or maybe I should have bought that goat skull in Chiang Mai. (I’m still kicking myself for not buying the boar teeth, but he wanted $18 for them and I was already buying the silk-reeling device.)
*ahem* Back to Chiang Mai…
First, to end any trace of suspense, the lacquer guy didn’t call me back after all, but it turned out to be just as well, since if I’d gone off with him I would have missed the lace place. What lace place? Well, I was trying to figure out how to kill half a day in Chiang Mai, since I wasn’t going to be around long enough to trek out to the hilltribes. So I looked on the Nancy Chandler map of Chiang Mai, and it mentioned Sawasdee Lace, on the way to Noi’s place (Noi being the textiles expert I’m trying to con into accompanying me to Laos). So, I thought I’d stop by.
Well, Sawasdee Lace turns out to be the home of a master bobbin lacemaker. I mean a real master: while I was in NYC I spent a day at the Met (I think it was the Met) looking through their lace collection. Her work is significantly better.
Okay, that’s not exactly fair: she’s working with modern materials, and in particular with silk rather than linen. But it’s the finest lacework I’ve ever seen. I took some photos after talking with her–most didn’t come out (it’s notoriously hard to photograph needlework under glass, and my camera’s not the best), but a few did. I’ve posted them in the Chiang Mai section.
Anyway, while my jaw was dropping, the lacemaker/shop owner asked where I was from, and we wound up having a very nice conversation…I showed her my little spindle and travel shawl, which she politely admired (it’s admittedly very crude compared to her work). (The spindle/shawl, as it turns out, is a great icebreaker among craftspeople; while it’s not great work, it does instantly ID me as a fellow craftsperson, which is great for starting conversations.) It turns out that she has a daughter living in the U.S. (Seattle), with her engineer husband. She’s a middle-aged Thai woman, I’d say fairly traditional–quiet, modest, and unassuming–but her work is fantastic, and shows the devotion of an artist. She designs lace (and makes some of it), but the bulk of the work is done by six girls who work for her, whom she’s taught to make lace. I didn’t ask what they all get paid; it can’t be much, considering how time-consuming bobbin lace is.
I should mention that bobbin lace is not native to Thailand. It originates somewhere in the UK (Ireland, I think–Irish lace is legendary); she herself learned from a Dutch teacher. The traditional fiber for bobbin lace is very fine linen–generally wet-spun in damp cellars, with the finest threads spun by blind spinners–but she uses silk instead, which is of course appropriate to Thailand (and I think prettier besides).
Anyway, after I showed her my spindle (she was fascinated by the workings of it) she showed me her masterwork: an 18″ fan that a woman had commissioned her to duplicate in lace. This fan (picture on my website, in the Chiang Mai/lace section) is a multicolored painting of a Buddhist temple scene, with monks, elephants, palm trees, lotus blossoms, etc. all through it. It is her masterwork, she’s been working on it for two years now and expects to work on it for another four or five at least. She’s been duplicating individual motifs from the fan (my guess is that there are 100 or more motifs in the entire fan) and keeping them in a scrapbook; she draws a sketch, does the initial design, and then works and reworks them until they’re right. She showed me a banana palm, maybe 1″ across–not even one of the focal pieces–that she had redone twice because “it wasn’t quite right”–one version was a little too heavy, one wasn’t the right style/wrong color. This is ultrafine bobbin lace–both of those “wrong” pieces had probably taken days (at least) to make. But, as she said, she wanted to make it “the best piece of lace made this century”, as her sponsor had requested.
Anyway, her work is amazing. If and when I ever have thirty thousand dollars to spare, I want to commission her to do a white peacock in silk lace–that should be absolutely stunning. But then, I also want to own one of Itchiku Kubota’s fabulously dyed kimono (not to duplicate it–just to worship the thing; they’re incredibly beautiful), and quite a few other things I’ll probably never afford. Life’s like that. (If you’ve never seen Kubota’s work, by the way, he is a Japanese dyer who combines multiple techniques (traditional rice-paste resist, calligraphy, ink drawing, etc.) with traditional tied-resist in a very complicated dye, over-dye, dye, over-dye process, producing the world’s most beautiful kimono. One of my life ambitions is to travel to Japan to see his collected kimono.)
So anyway, after she and I finished chatting, I gave her the address of a place I know in Hong Kong that supplies people with custom lace (another agent for her?), and got her card. Once I get back, I plan to show my photos to places in the Bay Area that might be interested in her work. If anyone has ideas for where she might be able to sell, pass them on; she does exquisite stuff, and while it’s not cheap, for the labor involved it’s absolutely dirt-cheap. (She is doing the fan for $30,000, for example. No way is she getting paid “real money” for her work, at that rate–but, of course, she’s doing it for love, not money.)
Anyway, she recommended that I go down to another section of Chiang Mai where there are other master craftspeople, but I didn’t make it there; I ran out of time, as I wanted to stop by and see Noi.
Noi, as it happened, wasn’t in her shop (out at the market), so I drifted through the textile shops on Loi Kroh Rd. on the way back. I was wrong about how little the weavers get paid for their work: two meters of mudmee silk isn’t 1800 baht at all. I bought one length for 800 baht ($19) and one for 1000 baht ($23). Admittedly, that was with some armtwisting bargaining (I’ve given up my American scruples 😉 ), but for ten days’ work? Retail? The weavers must be working for under 20 baht (fifty cents) a day. Of course it isn’t a full-time job for them, but it does show why weaving is a dying art…
I do think I got it for less than usual, though, as all the textile shops are desperate right now. The terrorism threat has substantially reduced tourism even in Chiang Mai (which is supposed to be safe); Noi estimated that tourism is down 30%, and because of the global economy, no one is buying. So I might easily have been one of only 5-6 customers that day. So, if anyone wants to buy Thai textiles, let me know and I can put you in touch with some of the vendors. You probably won’t be able to get photos, but I’ll be passing back through Chiang Mai at some point with my digital camera…you might be able to work something out.
As an example of the exquisite work being sold for rock-bottom prices, I’ve put up (also in the Chiang Mai section) a photo of an embroidered baby-carrier that was up for an asking price of 3800 baht, or $88. This was an absolutely beautiful piece and I wish I’d had the money to buy it–I could probably have talked her down to 2500 or 3000 baht, but after buying the jade sword and paying for the studio time, etc. for body painting, it just wasn’t going to happen. I did take the shopkeeper’s card and email address, so if anyone you know might be interested, let me know and I’ll try getting it for you when I pass through Chiang Mai again. (I confess that I really want to buy the thing. I don’t know that I want to *keep* it, but I want to get it where I can take a good, several-hour look at it.) She said it was Mao (sp?) work, Chinese, from Yunan province.
I personally can’t believe that (a) someone made it, and (b) sold it after spending all that time on it. We’re talking almost 2 feet of solid embroidery, very fine work, and an equally detailed cross on the other side. Very beautiful.
Anyway, after shopping a bit, I had lunch in a Western-style cafe, and then ducked into a bookseller. A few minutes later I realized Loi Kroh Road is also Chiang Mai’s red-light district (or one of them)–about a third of the books were either American erotica, or tour books targeted at sex tourists. I confess that I was quite curious, so I paged through a couple of them–I now know the proper etiquette for picking up a bar boy in gay sex bars, how to get to second base with a (straight) Thai woman (don’t touch her hair unless you want to get slapped, by the way), and how much bride-price to pay a poor Thai woman’s family so you can marry her. This and other totally useless bits of information will undoubtedly someday buy me a cup of coffee, but hey, at least I know. (I also know any number of extremely rude phrases in Thai–courtesy of some rather, um, targeted phrasebooks sold by the same bookstore. Unfortunately, my accent is so bad that I doubt anyone would understand what I was saying; but on the whole, I suspect this is a good thing. 😉 )
Anyway, after emerging from the bookstore I actually noticed the bevy of bars with names like “Butterfly Bar”, replete with ten or twelve young women sitting around on bar stools, playing pool, etc. It’s gradually been dawning on me just how prevalent the sex trade is in Thailand…color me clueless, but it just hadn’t occurred to me to think of them as sex workers because they don’t dress the way prostitutes in the U.S. customarily dress–they look, in fact, very much like your average young Thai woman. If they weren’t hanging around in bars, you wouldn’t think anything particular of them. (I also just realized that the “singers” in the Jansom Thara hotel (“the best hotel in Ranong”) were probably also prostitutes…I was wondering why and how a hotel could afford to field ten or twelve live singers in a largely empty restaurant, each performing for maybe ten minutes. Okay, so I’m dense–I’m female, I don’t get propositioned, prostitution just doesn’t naturally occur to me.)
it’s also really hard to work out which of the Thai women running around with farangs (Westerners) are sex workers, and which are simply dating Western boyfriends. I’m not sure there’s a clear division anyway–in most cases, they’re doing it for the money or the glamour or both. The plain fact is, Western men have money, and a Thai woman involved with one is likely to enjoy the benefit of that money, whether or not she’s technically being paid. This may account for the generally poor view people take of interracial relationships here–I was talkign to one Thai woman (professional, makes good money) who dated a Dutch man for awhile; she said that she wasn’t sure she’d do it again. Not because he wasn’t a nice guy–he was–but she couldn’t go anywhere with him without getting dirty looks, because people figured she was a prostitute. This was particularly bad while vacationing.
(I was wrong about escaping Asian fetishists in Asia, by the way. it seems that almost every Caucasian male in Thailand is an Asian fetishist…fortunately, they’re generally pursuing Thai women. Considering my predilection for white boys I probably shouldn’t complain , but seeing the hordes of Western guys running around with Thai women really bothers me, probably because of the power imbalance. I have thus far been told by at least four or five Western expat guys that “Western women are too aggressive, afraid of being feminine, insist on competing with men in everything–Thai women are nicer”. (From observation, “overly aggressive” translates to “distinguishable from doormat”–Thai women actively defer to men in almost all things.) Of course this is an *insanely* rude thing to say to an American woman (give me credit for self-restraint–I have slapped no faces yet, despite the temptation)–but I think they don’t consider me “Western” because I’m of Asian descent. (Don’t get me started there, either.))
I have noticed that long-term expats consider me significantly more “invisible”–support structure, not a “real” person–than Western travelers–another good reason not to stick around in Thailand. If this is what American society was like fifty years ago, I owe a lot more to my mother’s generation (and Susan B.’s inheritors) than I thought. Thai women, while they run most of the shops and are (expat assessment) considerably more reliable than Thai men, are nonetheless expected to defer to them in everything.
I would go on about this, but then I’d be demonstrating the “unattractive aggressiveness” of Western women. 😉 Nonetheless I can’t help thinking that impromptu hormone therapy should be in order. I can help with that.
(Parenthetically, while being a single female traveler isn’t always the best option, it’s probably better for me than running around with a Caucasian boyfriend. Some Asian-American women traveling with boyfriends have gotten hassled in Vietnam (rock-throwing, etc.) because locals assume any Asian woman with a white man is a prostitute. really says something about the status of women in Asia, and the prevalence of the sex trade, if you ask me.)
Remind me at some point to expound into the sociology of prostitution in Thailand…I picked up a (scholarly) book on AIDS in Thailand and it’s proving to be very, very interesting. Basically there seem to be two views of it, one prostitute-as-entrepreneur (the money’s good, it beats rice farming, and I’m saving up to open my own shop in five years) and one prostitute-as-exploited-victim (sex slavery is also alive and well). It’s much more complicated than that and links into the Buddhist belief system, which has a totally different perspective on crime/corruption/sin, but I haven’t fully integrated the details yet.
Anyway, this email is getting very long, so I’m going to switch to a different one for the body painting…but I *will* get around to it, promise. 😉